by Victor Biwot, Operations Manager at Sireet Tea Outgrowers, a Fairtrade certified small holder tea company in Nandi Hills, Kenya
Smallholders in developing countries are amongst the worst affected by climate change – how are they coping and what do they expect from world leaders at the COP? Victor Biwot reflects on climate change affecting Kenyan farmers as he visits this week’s UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), as part of the Fairtrade delegation.
When Britons put a cup of freshly brewed tea to their lips, climate change is probably the furthest thing from their minds. To us, Kenyan farmers who grow the precious tea leaf, however, climate change poses a daily threat. Not just to our crops, but also to our livelihoods. This impact has been particularly poignant over the last few years.
Where climate change is most obvious, and extremely concerning for farmers, is the rain cycles which have become so erratic that they don’t know when to plant anymore. This year, we had no rain for four whole months from January to April. This is highly unusual, as this used to be known as the rainy season in Kenya. On the other extreme end, we’ve also been experiencing highly unusual periods of frost and heavy hail.
Any farmer will tell you that planting during a dry spell is foolish. And, when you do risk it, being hit by hail or frost will irrevocably damage your tea shoots. In either scenario you lose your cash crop, and it can take months if not years to recover from such a setback. Based on this year’s climate, we’ve known for some time already that 2015 is going to be a disastrous year for yields.
Kenya is listed among the top 20 countries most affected by climate change and studies show that tea growing areas in Kenya are set to lose around 40% of the land suitable for tea planting due to climate change.
We can’t afford to sit around and wait for global leaders to take action. Our cooperative represents over 6,000 small-scale farmers already feeling the impact of climate change – we have no other option but to find a solution to climate change challenges.
With the support of partners like Fairtrade International and buyers like CaféDirect, we have been working to adapt. Last year, through the AdapTea project we received training from Vi Agroforestry on climate change risks and ways to adapt. The experience showed that knowledge is power indeed, especially for the farmers who now feel they can take action and also pass their knowledge onto others.
As small farmers, our means are limited: we’re willing and eager to adapt, but we can’t do it alone. That’s why I am attending the COP21 conference in Paris. We need to make sure that a binding climate deal is made so we can keep the global warming under two degrees – otherwise there is no chance that farmers like myself can continue producing that cup of tea I know both British and Kenyans enjoy so much.
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