© Reuters. Tea harvesters pick tea leaves from other fields in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021. Workers are paid according to the weight of the tea they take, however the drought has led to a decrease in growth which affects the amount of money they can earn.
Author Ann Wang
MEISHAN / TAOYUAN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Chien Shun-yih looks out over his dying tea plantations in the beautiful southern town of Meishan in Taiwan and sighs.
A drought that occurred once a century ago and was followed by torrential rains this year has damaged crops and left Taiwanese tea farmers in the lurch.
“The weather is something we can’t control in our tea plantations,” Chien, 28, told Reuters. “We really depend on heaven for food.”
(Open https://reut.rs/3aB7uEt in an external browser to view image packages at tea companies in Taiwan.)
Producing tea in Taiwan may not be the same as in China or India, but the less so-called makes it ideal, especially the large Oolong mountain ranges used by Meishan.
Tea has grown in the mountains around Meishan since the island was part of the Qing dynasty in China in the 19th century. The companies grew and grew under Japanese rule from 1895-1945.
Chien, who returned to support his family after his father died of cancer four years ago, is now working on a climate change plan, including drilling under a bush to find ponds to water the fields.
Lin Shiou-ruei, a government researcher assisting Meishan farmers, said another problem caused by bad weather is the pests that cause young tea leaves.
“Insects love dryness and heat,” he said in his experimental fields in Taoyuan in northern Taiwan. “In the past it wasn’t hot until May until July, but here in April it’s already hot.”
Lin is working to educate farmers about the increasing number of pests and climate change, and how to identify and manage them.
His boss, chief marketing officer Tsai Hsien-tsung, said he began monitoring climate change in the tea country four years ago and has already noticed the taste of the crop changes with the weather.
“The temperature is rising, the rain is falling. The rainfall is low,” he said. “Tea is very difficult.”
However, whether what is happening in Taiwan’s tea country is closely linked to climate change is still a source of controversy.
Chen Yung-ming, head of the Climate Change Division at Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Center for Reduction Reduction, said it would not be possible to tackle the drought over climate change.
“We can only say that the chances of continuous drought will increase,” he said.
Chien expects to harvest 600 kg (1,300 lb) of tea this year, half of last year’s harvest, due to drought and rainfall, but says he is determined not to be beaten.
“These trees are what fed me and raised me. In return I want to try and take good care of them.”
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