Data’s role in sustainable tea production

By Amy Barthorpe, Head of Business Development

Tea is one of the drinks most enjoyed worldwide. It supports millions of people’s livelihoods (with an estimated 3 million tea farmers in Kenya and 80 million in China) and in 2016 the global market was thought to be worth a whopping $38.2 billion USD.

Tea is grown in areas of the world that are predicted to be highly impacted by climate change. Because of this, many tea companies are trying to create a new model for sustainable tea production, in order to secure the future of the crop.

Challenges around sustainable tea production

There are many aspects that need to be taken into account when considering how to achieve sustainable tea production. The first is looking at how we can better monitor the real impact of climate change on tea.

Tea can be adversely affected by climate change through high temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns and new crop diseases, and these trends need to be monitored more effectively in order to predict future shortages, identify potential areas of risk, and create tailored prevention strategies.

Another important factor in sustainable tea production is promoting the safe use of pesticides. As with any other food crop, the production of tea can have adverse impacts on the environment if it’s not managed responsibly. For example, using agrochemicals incorrectly can lead to soil pollution and/or contamination of water bodies.

Many tea farms do not require pesticides in order to grow good quality tea, and many tea companies have moved towards producing organic tea (sometimes using organic pesticides). However, some farmers not associated with a certified organic tea plantation may still use pesticides in a manner that can harm the environment.

Many other potential issues around sustainable tea production are around tea farmers and the difficulties they face. Tea is a difficult crop to grow and there are trends around urban migration as farmers look for easier sources of income. With an ageing population of tea farmers and fewer young people attracted by the industry there is a risk that in the future, with fewer tea farmers, tea will not be grown in the same volume.

Data’s role in sustainable tea production

Many other industries collaborate to pool their learning and come up with effective sustainability strategies. Sadly this is much more challenging for the food and drink industry because of the highly complex nature of modern supply chains. However, data provides an excellent opportunity for the tea industry to reveal the challenges facing the tea industry, map issues and help tea companies allocate resources more effectively.

Our SMS based knowledge sharing network has generated over 10 million interactions between farmers without internet. By utilising SMS and the spread of mobile technology farmers, can now exchange information with other farmers around the world. Then by analysing the millions of real-time conversations happening through our platform we offer tea businesses WeFarm Insights to help them gain visibility over potential challenges and map the effects of climate change.

Analysing trends amongst tea farmers

This spring we conducted an analysis of thousands of messages shared between tea farmers in Kenya and identified tea growers’ biggest areas of concern. Two out of the top five most discussed topics were climate and pest control, highlighting that climate change is already impacting tea growers in a variety of ways.

We also found that older farmers are much more likely to grow tea. Amongst our tea farmers there are almost twice as many farmers over 65 years old growing tea than under 25 year olds.

Our technology and data enables companies to monitor trends and assess those which mays worsen over time or during a particular season and then mitigate against risks that pose a significant threat to future sustainable tea production. Analysing seasonal, regular and temporary trends in this way allows businesses to forecast future trends that will affect supply chains over time.

Analysing data also helps tea growers. By gaining insights into the needs and requirements of farmers,  businesses can then effectively allocate resources to help empower farmers in the areas with the biggest challenges. Providing farmers with the information to build adaptation strategies or building tailored training can improve farmers’ understanding of their role in sustainable tea production and create sustainable, more robust supply chains. This will also help encourage farmers to stay in their profession, lowering the risk associated with an ageing population of tea farmers.

Data presents a great opportunity for businesses to identify and mitigate risks, and empower farmers to grow sustainably. With the effects of climate change beginning to become apparent it is time to move towards a model of sustainable tea production – and data provides a good solution.

For more information on how your business might benefit from data please contact Amy on amy@wefarm.org.  

Posted 30 June 2016 | Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,