Assessing the sustainability of growing tea in East Africa under climate change and energy resource pressures.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


Tea is second most popular beverage after water and its cultivation supports the livelihoods of communities globally. The eco-physiology of tea means it is sensitive to environmental and climatic factors. Climate change has been found to negatively impact tea yield, revenue and livelihood security. This relationship implies that long term climate change will impact all aspects of the tea production in East Africa where prolonged periods of drought and reduced precipitation have been projected.

Socio-environmental variables further compound pressures felt in East Africa where poverty, high population rates, land use change and a lack of rural electrification often lead to deforestation of miombo woodlands. There are competing demands for biomass extraction between communities and the tea industry for fuelwood, as tea leaf drying is the most energy intensive process on tea estates and predominantly relies upon the combustion of woody biomass. Deforestation is known to alter land-atmosphere interactions and can severely impact the micro-climate of a region. The knock-on effect of which, could be decreased agricultural yield and a loss of resiliency to climate shocks in terms of both agriculture and local livelihoods. However, it is unknown what is driving land use change and deforestation in tea cultivating regions.

Literature suggests that an integrative approach is ideal for tackling real-world sustainability issues such as this and that there is a lack of data at the local level, with limited understanding of the interactions between climate, tea production, environment and livelihoods. It is therefore necessary to appraise potential engineering and social-environmental interventions to ensure the tea industry is resilient to future climate shocks and environmental pressures. This project will try to fill this information gap. Research may include seeking alternative energy sources for the tea leaf drying process or developing community micro-grid energy projects to reduce the demand for biomass. The project will involve collaboration with Bettys and Taylors Group, the 3rd largest tea manufacturers in the UK. They are concerned about the long-term viability of tea, under socio-environmental changes and are increasingly looking for opportunities to improve the adaptive capacity and resilience of both the tea industry and its growers' livelihoods.

The aim of the project is to use novel approaches to understand this complex, dynamic system on a localised scale for a chosen tea cultivating area, crossing traditional discipline boundaries to integrate a socio-techno and environmental analysis in a mixed methods approach. The project will provide a holistic assessment of tea production in East Africa to inform future investment in climate-resilient tea cultivation practices and energy improvements to reduce the pressure on the remaining forests. Thus, reducing vulnerability to the livelihoods of those dependant on tea. This project will involve a) The use climate data simulations to understand the projected trends in precipitation and temperature for a chosen region b) The use of earth observation data in the form of remote sensing imagery of forest cover changes c) Qualitative data collection using household surveys, interviews and participatory methods, seeking to understand socio-ecological processes and patterns of change from different perspectives.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513258/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
1940175 Studentship EP/R513258/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2022 Hannah Sherwood