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Will tea farmers recover from annual $4.1m climate-induced loss?

Farmers sort tea leaves at Murindi Tea plantaion in Gicumbi in 2018. / Photo by Sam Ngendahimana.

Venant Ntawuruhunga, a farmer from Gicumbi District recalls how soil erosion and floods used to erode their farms on hills and also devastate tea plantations in the valleys some years back that led to huge losses of agricultural productivity.

The losses are due to climate change related impact in the district according to studies.

 

Data from the national survey on the assessment of climate change in Rwanda conducted in 2018 showed that in the Northern Province, Gicumbi District ranks highest in exposure to climate hazards and second-highest insensitivity to climate-related impact.

 

Particularly at risk are tea and coffee farmers as both crops are highly sensitive to climate change and adverse losses in production are already evident.

 

The farmer, Ntawuruhunga said that he grows tea on about one hectare, the tea plantation that has enabled him to pay school fees for his children until they completed university education.

However, he said the emerging soil erosion and floods usually submerge tea plantations and affect productivity.

“There are some consecutive years where I counted losses due to disasters. I used to harvest over Rwf100,000 tea every month but this turned into losses due to disasters. I remember that in 2015 heavy rains caused soil erosion and floods caused a big loss because tea plantations were submerged and later dried,” he said.

The farmer is one of two tea farmers cooperatives namely KOTEVEM with about 4,150 farmers and COOPTHE Mulindi with about 1,000 farmers in Gicumbi district whose tea plantations are affected by climate related impact.

The estimated annual loss of production from climate variability at the Mulindi tea plantation  on 2, 300 ha in Gicumbi over the last six years ranges from 2.0 to 3.3 million tonnes of green leaf per year, with an equivalent market loss of $2.5 to $4.1 million according to studies.

Recovery

According to Jean Marie Vianney Kagenza, the leader of a $32 Million project aimed to green Gicumbi district by strengthening climate resilience, in order to build climate resilience to tea and coffee, some tea plantations are being relocated on hills.

The project implemented by Rwanda Green Fund-FONERWA was financed by Green Climate Fund (GCF).

He said that tea farmers have been facing climate related impacts from the last ten years.

“Every year floods used to affect a big part of tea plantations. For example over 200 hectares in the wetland around Mulindi tea factory have been affected by floods which lead tea plantations to dry. Tea and coffee we are planting on hills will cover the soil and control erosion. The tea being planted is resilient to climate related impact and diseases,” he said.

He said that the six-year project is starting by planting 600, 000 tea seedlings for farmers on 50 hectares on Kaniga hill.

He said that the wetlands from which tea plantations are being relocated to hillside will be used for growing other crops.

According to agronomist Tumusiime Marie Florence, the tea varieties to be planted will increase productivity compared to others and thus boost nation tea production

By 2024, Rwanda expects to produce 65,099 tonnes of tea from 32,600 tonnes in 2019/2020 and generate $209 million through exports, according to NAEB.

He added that tea plantations also play a role in reducing carbon emissions that pollute the air and cause climate change.

“This means tea plantations will both play a role in climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation,” he said.

In the course of the six years of the project, it is estimated that 273,720 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will be reduced or avoided.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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