Vulnerability of Sri Lanka tea production to global climate change

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<ul><li><p>VULNERABILITY OF SRI LANKA TEA PRODUCTION TO GLOBAL CL IMATE CHANGE </p><p>M.A. WIJERATNE Tea Research Institute </p><p>Research Advisory and Extension Centre Ratnapura, Sri Lanka </p><p>Abstract. The tea industry is Sri Lanka's main net foreign exchange earner and source of income for the majority of laborers. Tea yield is greatly influenced by weather, and especially by droughts, which cause irreparable losses because irrigation is seldom used on tea plantations. At the other extreme, heavy rains erode top soil and wash away fertilizers and other chemicals. Inthe recently published Sri Lanka country report on climate change, it was reported that the island will experience extreme rainfall intensities and wanner temperatures as a result of climate change. The possibility of a 10% increase inthe length of dry and wet seasons per year in the main plantation area was also indicated. Thus both drought damages and soil losses intea production areas will increase inthe years to come. An analysis of the results oftield experiments with weather data shows that increases in temperature, soil moisture deficit, and saturation vapor pressure detlcit in the low elevations will adversely affect growth and yield of tea. Reports have also shown that about 30 cm of soil has already been eroded from upland tea plantations. Under these circumstances, the tea industry in Sri Lanka is clearly vulnerable to predicted climate changes, and subsequently greater economic, social, and environmental problems. This paper discusses the various aspects of the adverse effects of climate change on Sri Lanka's tea industry. </p><p>Key words: Sri Lanka, agriculture, tea </p><p>1. Introduction </p><p>Although industrial exports such as textiles and garments bring in a higher percentage of foreign exchange, a~-iculture is the highest net foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. Of the agricultural exports, tea alone contributes about 15-25% of the total exchange earnings and, hence, plays a key role in the Sri Lankan economy. About 30% of the employees of the public sector (government and semigovernment) are manual workers on estates, and the majority of these are employed on tea plantations. Moreover, about 239,000 tea small holdings also generate a large proportion of employment opportunities in the country. Accordingly, more than 700,000 workers and their families are dependent on the tea industry. These figures show the importance of the tea industry to the social and economic stability of Sri Lanka. </p><p>In spite of the expansion of the small holdings sector, in Sri Lanka, the total area of tea plantations has decreased since the 1930s, i.e., from about 0.44 to 0.23 x 10 s ha. The decline in the estate sector tea lands began early in the 1960s, because of low productivity brought about by soil and bush debilitation. Many of the midcountry (600-1,200 m elevation) tea plantations have now become marginal, warranting crop diversification. Adversities of weather and poor management practices have been blamed for this situation; changes in the microclimate in tea plantations after shade removal during the early 1960s have also affected the productivity of the tea bushes (Fuch, 1989). Some adverse effects of the nationalization of the plantations in the 1970s, such as the neglect of agricultural practices, contributed to the decline in the estate sector production (Fuch, 1989). </p><p>Being a rainfed plantation crop in Sri Lanka, tea depends greatly on weather for optimal growth. Therefore, changes in weather conditions would undoubtedly affect tea production. The relationship between tea yield and weather has been discussed by many researchers (e.g., Devanathan, 1975; Kandiah and Thevadasan, 1980; Carr and Stephens, 1992). The </p><p>Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 92" 87-94. 1996 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. </p></li><li><p>88 M.A. WIJERATNE </p><p>findings of this study differ from those of the Sri Lanka country report (ADB, 1994). This could be due to the different models used to predict tea yield. It is generally accepted that an increase in temperature increases tea yield, and this relationship has been used in many models. But recent findings show that at higher temperature regimes (greater than 25-26 C), the increase in temperatures reduces tea yield. </p><p>Droughts inflict irreparable losses to the tea industry and hence to the economy of Sri Lanka. The consequences of the droughts in 1983 and 1992 are good examples (Central Bank, 1983; 1992). The decline in production due to drought in early 1983 was about 4% over the previous year, and the drought in 1992 reduced tea production by about 26% compared to that of 1991. It also increased the costs of production by 19%, depriving the country of about 3 billion rupees (US$70 million) of foreign exchange. Total production in 1991 and 1992 was 240.7 and 178.9 10 ~ kg, respectively, and the latter was the lowest production recorded since the end of the 1950s (Figure 1). These figures show the magnitude of the loss that could be incurred by adversities of weather. </p><p>Heavy rainfall also causes considerable damage to tea plantations through soil erosion, poor growth due to lack of sun, and increases in disease incidence. Poorly covered old seedling tea fields, pruned tea fields, and young tea fields during the first two years are more vulnerable to soil erosion due to inadequate ground cover. It has been estimated that more than 30 cm of top soil has already been lost from Sri Lanka's tea plantations, especially in the uplands (Krishnaraj ah, 1985). Landslides also adversely affect plantations and endanger the lives of workers on the hilly slopes. </p><p>2. Climate Change and Methods </p><p>According to climate change scenarios, the increases in global atmospheric CO 2 concentrations and temperatures by 2100 could be in the range of 600-700 ppm and 1.0-3.5 C, respectively, </p><p>250 </p><p>~. 200 </p><p>k % </p><p>g 150 </p><p>Z ~. 100 </p><p>50 1934 </p><p>1200 </p><p>i 1100 </p><p>1000 L </p><p>900 ]~ </p><p>800 </p><p>7oo </p><p>600 "~ </p><p>400 1944 1954 1964 1974 1984 1994 </p><p>Year </p><p>Fig. 1. Total tea production and average yield in Sri Lanka. </p></li><li><p>VULNERABILITY OF SRI LANKA TEA PRODUCTION 89 </p><p>compared to 1990, depending on different scenarios of variations in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N20 ) and oceanic changes (Houghton et al., 1996). </p><p>The consequences of climate change will differ from one country to another. In the recently published Sri Lanka country report (ADB, 1994), it was shown that Sri Lanka will experience frequent droughts, wanner spells, and extreme rainfall events as a result of the climate change. Scenarios &amp;temperature changes for Sri Lanka show an increase in temperature of 0.4-3.0C by 2070 (ADB, 1994). Moreover, climate change scenarios presented for Sri Lanka have shown that the frequency and severity of such extreme weather conditions may increase, and thus affect the agriculture sector. It is also indicated that there will be a 10% increase in the length of dry and wet seasons per year in the main tea plantation area. Although an increase in rainfall is predicted, any significantly favorable impact on tea plantation agriculture is unlikely because of increased evaporation losses brought about by high temperatures and the possibility of the distribution of rainfall being erratic or uneven (ADB, 1994). </p><p>In many other countries, vulnerability assessments on different economically and socially important areas are being conducted to inform policy makers about suitable adaptation measures that could be implemented. Hence, it has become a current need to address the possible impacts of global climate change on the tea industry in Sri Lanka. </p><p>In this study, the effects of environmental factors on growth and yield of tea were studied using data on annual variation of climatic factors and yield parameters of tea. The relationship between the climatic factors and tea yield was analyzed using linear regression analysis. </p><p>3. Results and Discussion </p><p>As described previously, since there is no irrigation, tea yield is greatly influenced by weatherl Tea grows well under air temperatures in the range of 18-25 C (Carl 1972; Watson, 1986). A well-distributed rainfall of about 1,300-1,400 mm per year is generally considered adequate for the growth of tea in Sri Lanka. It is also reported that an annual rainfall of about 2,500-3,000 mm is optimum for tea cultivation (Fuch, 1989; Watson, 1986). There is a wide variation in temperature and rainfall in the different tea growing regions in Sri Lanka. </p><p>Although the relationship between weather and tea yield has shown that increases in rainfall and temperature increase tea yield (Devanathan, 1975; Squire, 1990), recent observations have shown that at higher temperature regimes (&gt;25-26 C), the yield components of tea (shoot population density, shoot weight, and shoot extension rate) tend to decrease with increasing temperatures: </p><p>SW = 0.647 (4-0.059)- 0.017 (4-0.002) T R 2 = 40%, p &lt; 0.001 , </p><p>and </p><p>SER = 225 (38)- 6.62 (1.37) T R 2 = 29%, p &lt; 0.001 , </p><p>where SW, SER, and T are the shoot dry weight (g/shoot), shoot extension rate (mm/week), and temperature (C), respectively. Low R 2 values were obtained because this experiment was conducted under field conditions where none of the environmental factors were controlled. </p></li><li><p>90 M.A . WI JERATNE </p><p>~z </p><p>,x= ~3 </p><p>75 </p><p>65 </p><p>55 </p><p>45 </p><p>35 </p><p>25 </p><p> TRI2025 (APR-OCT) TR12023 (APR-OCT) </p><p>D TRI 2025 (NOV-MAR) v TRI 2023 (NOV-MAR) </p><p>=~=l y~__295 - 8.46x v 'v~ 54% v ~ </p><p>y=167- 4.71x ~v~-~B" v R 2 = 71% v-,e% ~, m </p><p>V V </p><p>v </p><p>" ' - v "'- . V V I </p><p>[] [] " - . - . .0 V D [] </p><p>[] [] v ' ' ' - Vn "-..D </p><p>[] o v v - ' - . . </p><p>v D ~- . [] </p><p>v V </p><p>I I I I I I </p><p>25 26 27 28 29 30 </p><p>Temperature ( o C ) </p><p>Fig. 2. Effect of temperature on population density of tea shoots. </p><p>Figure 2 shows the relationship between tea shoot population density and temperature for TRI 2025 and TRI 2023, two common tea clones (cultivars) in Sri Lanka. </p><p>Experiments under controlled environments have shown that shoot extension rate increases with increasing temperatures up to 22C, and fitrther increases in temperature up to 34C result in a decline in the extension rate (Figure 3; the dashed lines below 15 C in the figure are extrapolations of the linear relationship to obtain the base temperature above which tea grows). </p><p>E g </p><p>18-- </p><p>15 -- </p><p>12- - </p><p>9 -- </p><p>6 -- </p><p>3 -- </p><p>0 </p><p>5 </p><p> Well Watered Moisture S t / r e ssed ~ , , ",, </p><p>/ 4 / </p><p>/ / / / " , </p><p>/ "o / / </p><p>/ / / / / Base Temperatures / / </p><p>, o/~----"~ I I I </p><p>10 15 20 25 30 </p><p>Temperature (C) </p><p>35 </p><p>Fig. 3. Effect of temperature on shoot extension rate under controlled conditions. </p></li><li><p>VULNERABILITY OF SRI LANKA TEA PRODUCTION 91 </p><p>L </p><p>g </p><p>o </p><p>125 - - </p><p>I 00 - - </p><p>75 - - </p><p>50 </p><p>25 </p><p> Up Country (&gt;1,200 m) Mid Country (800-1,200 m) / ,~ </p><p>1980 1985 t990 </p><p>Year </p><p>Fig. 4. Annual tea production in different tea growing regions in Sri Lanka. </p><p>The adverse effects of climate change are expected to be greater in the low country tea growing regions (26C, soil moisture deficits &gt;30-50 mm, and saturation vapor pressure deficits &gt;1.2 kPa (Wijeratne, 1994). Given these results, it could be assumed that the predicted climate change for Sri Lanka, i.e., higher temperatures and drier weather (ADB, 1994), will be unfavorable for tea production. </p><p>Extreme rainfall events within a short period of time also cause considerable damage through erosion. Loss of fertility, reduction in water holding capacity because of an increase in graveliness, exposure of hard pans, exposure of root systems, and reduction in microbial activities due to loss of organic matter are some of the negative consequences of soil erosion, adversely affecting the growth and yield of tea. With the loss of top soil, cultivable lands may become barren or unproductive and can be used neither for replanting with tea nor for any other agricultural purpose. Moreover, rehabilitation of such lands takes a long time, and may even be uneconomical. In addition, the growth of tea bushes could be reduced because of heavy rainfall due to lack of sun and an increase in the incidence of diseases such as blister blight </p><p>When these facts are considered, it is clear that the predicted climate change in Sri Lanka, i.e., recurrent warm seasons, droughts, and heavy rains with erratic distribution, will undoubtedly affect the tea industry. Tea needs an even distribution of rainfall to ensure continuous production. Although increased atmospheric CO 2 levels can enhance photosynthesis, this </p></li><li><p>92 M.A. WIJERATNE </p><p>beneficial effect cannot be expected to offset the negative impacts expected because of limitations such as high temperatures and poor soil conditions. </p><p>Currently, more than 50% of Sri Lanka's tea fields are seedling fields with poor ground cover. Although these seedlings are generally more adaptable to environmental stress, their ability to withstand dry weather is being degraded by poor soil and poor management. Most of these fields are planted along the slope (but not on contours) and hence are also vulnerable to soil erosion. Recent observations have shown that even seedling tea fields are subject to drought damage due to poor shade and poor soil (Yatawatte, 1992). Hence, seedling tea fields will also suffer considerable damage from climate change. </p><p>Shade is an essential requirement in tea plantations: shade trees reduce temperature, conserve soil, and increase relative humidity. After the abrupt removal of shade trees in the early 1960s (shade was removed with the hope that an increase in light intensity would enhance the assimilation of tea), shade management in Sri Lanka's tea plantations was very poor. Under such conditions, vulnerability of the tea industry to global warming and soil erosion will be much greater. </p><p>As a result of the poor management of shade trees and of green manure crops, the addition of organic matter to Sri Lanka's tea lands is currently inadequate. Higher temperatures in the years to come will quickly degrade organic matter, leaving unfertile soil with poor physical and chemical properties, especially in the low elevations. Further, increased soil erosion will also reduce the soil's organic carbon levels. The consequences of the loss of organic matter, such as reduced efficacy of applied nutrients, reduced microbial activity, and increased erodibility, will weaken the tea bushes and reduce yield. An increase in the susceptibility of the debilitated bushes to various pests and diseases may further decrease production. </p><p>As mentioned above, the small holding tea sector in Sri Lanka is expanding; it now makes up about 40% of the land used for tea. Hence, the present conditions of these small holdings should also be considered. In small holdings, shade management and soil conservation measures are given less priority because of their smaller size and the lack of resources for adopting costly practices such as building drains and terraces. Furthermore, infilling programs (planting tea in patches vacant because of dead plants) are also lacking in the small holding sector and hence ground cover is poorer. A number of reports...</p></li></ul>

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