The conventional method of tea brewing is universal knowledge. Undoubtedly, across a plethora of cultures, the accompaniments differ. For some, the beverage is completed with a spoon of honey, milk, a cinnamon stick, or lemon slices. Sometimes, it is gulped down as chilled ice tea, and on other occasions, it is sipped slowly to salve the frigidness. Despite the preference, the underlying fact is this; tea makes the world go ‘round.
In Rwanda, grown at an altitude range of 1,900m and 2,500m, this seemingly mundane beverage acts as a plinth on which its economy flourishes. The altitude coupled with its favorable climate has placed Rwanda on the globe as a producer of stellar quality tea.
Before the tea enters the market, each batch is scrutinized against pre-constructed standards. An analysis is drawn on texture, color, and even scent.
Whether green, black, or spiced, this tea giant refuses to be associated with subpar-tasting produce. In 2017, the country earned an approximation of 90.5 million dollars simply from exporting locally-grown tea. To meet both the unceasing internal and external demands, the country produces more than 30,000 metric tons annually; this is possible with Rwanda’s 15 tea factories.
However, with climate alterations becoming more and more apparent, could the land of a thousand hills’ production be hindered?
Light Shed On The Now.
The tea farming industry relies heavily on the country’s mountainous landscape. Production has been effortless, with the crops having access to a cooler temperature at the apex. Despite the success, it is integral to note a few of the subsequent effects of climate change in Rwanda– extreme rain, landslides, rising temperatures, droughts, flooding, etc. Given the rapidly altering seasons, climate experts will have to wear their critical thinking hats to be adequately equipped for the future. One can only hope that their findings will act as a luminous guide for Rwanda’s future.
Amid a documentarian interview, Alphonse Mutabazi, climate change program manager at Rwanda Environment Management Authority, sheds light on the staggering realization. He utters,
“In the last 40 years, the temperature has increased by 1.2 degrees celsius. The global warming temperature increase for 150 years is around 1-degree Celsius, meaning that the temperature in Rwanda is increasing higher than that of global warming.”
What Does This Mean for Rwanda’s Tea Production?
The climbing temperatures and unpredictability of rain hinder the tea industry and all involved stakeholders. Paul Watkiss, climate change expert and the main driver of the Rwandan initiative entitled “mainstreaming,” a project that endeavored to integrate primary beverage sectors such as tea and coffee into more sustainable waters, expounds on the incoming expectations.
In a video entitled “adapting Rwanda”, the expert mentioned above explains how lower-lying growth areas produce minute amounts of tea, thus disallowing them to be considered premium quality tea. In an article entitled Shaping Rwanda’s tea industry to withstand climate change, he conclusively says:
“Rising temperatures will reduce the quality of the tea from those regions in the short term. In the long term, such areas are projected to be too hot for growing quality tea, given current varieties and farming practices.”
One could argue that if necessary precaution is not taken, the land of a thousand hills could be on the verge of being de-throned of their status for “best-producing tea in the world.” Additionally, farmers, amongst other pertinent stakeholders, might be forced to prepare for days in the future without significant yield.
Although, it is integral to point out that not every province in Rwanda is experiencing climate changes to the same degree.
The difference is barely noticeable for some, and it has grown to be the bane of their existence for others. Gicumbi, a district in the Northern province, was ranked the “highest in exposure to climate hazards and second-highest insensitivity to climate-related impact according to a national survey on the assessment of climate change in Rwanda in 2018. Tea farmers within that district have and continue to grapple with the ever-changing climate. This difference is particularly evident in the district’s loss range of 2.5 to 4.1 million dollars over the last six years.
Some Rwandan tea farmers have experienced loss not solely subjected to financial decline. It is no secret that this battle has evoked a melange of emotions and, certainly on some days, actions of resilience.
However, for how long will these farmers go toe-toe with Rwanda’s rapidly changing climate?
Growing Pains or Growing Opportunities?
In our world today, a challenge opens the possibility for an unconventional yet sustainable solution to be planted. While a few countries distribute their resources towards miscellaneous expenses, this tea giant refuses to wait on irreversibility. Instead, Rwanda chooses to act upon the highlighted climate alterations. Albeit, this is no effortless commitment.
FONERWA, a climate change, and environment fund, was established by the Rwandan government in 2012. It has assisted both financially and technically any organization, thought, or institution that dares to dream of a solely green Rwanda. This entity has slowly been responsible for some revolutionary, sustainable alterations, such as green Gicumbi.
Given the tea industry’s radical role in Rwanda’s growth, perhaps taking radical steps is equally required. Currently, the tea industry grows between a range of 1,900m and 2,500m, however, Rwanda’s highest point happens to be 4,507m above sea level. This offers Rwanda a unique opportunity to raise its production altitude. Given the guarantee that the higher they rise, the cooler the apex.
While this suggestion may be perceived as a reformist, it is one way to maintain Rwanda’s global position as a top producer for stellar tasting and smelling tea. Whether black, spiced, or green, this tea giant could have it all under control with the right sustainable formula.
Nana Adjoa Mensa-Shebra
Second year student the @African Leadership University| Global Challenges Major | Research & Data Analysis Enthusiast | Intersectional Feminist