Over the past few years, the Malawi tea industry has seen a decrease in production mainly because of erratic rainfall, which has led to either floods or droughts. These changes in climate conditions require producers to adapt their practices to secure a sustainable livelihood. UTZ (Certification for sustainable farming, helping farmers, implementing good agricultural practices) wants to support the various stakeholders in the Malawi tea sector to elaborate and implement strategies for dealing with the impacts of climate change. CIAT will support UTZ in the generation of climate impact gradients for tea in Malawi to identify areas with high, medium, and low potential for tea production now and through 2050. Part of this work implies carrying out workshops in Malawi.
Our philosophy is that there are no “good” models; there can only be useful ones. To be useful, our models must make sense to local stakeholders and reflect their expertise. Therefore, after preparing preliminary models and findings for months in our offices sheltered from the “real world,” it was time to actually go to Malawi and validate our work. After traveling for almost two days from Cali, Colombia, to Blantyre, Malawi, I first had to learn how to pronounce the name of the city
Henriette Walz (UTZ) at the Tea Estate Lujeri
where I would spend the next couple of days, as well as a few basic phrases of the national language, Chichewa. This was very important for the Malawian people and always provided a good laugh.
Right from the beginning when I was picked up at the airport, I realized how beautiful the landscape of the area was. The region is rather flat but has stunning mountain massifs. In the next couple of days, my initial admiration of local nature continued when we went to the tea-growing regions. The combination of blue skies, green tea leaves, and mountain massifs in the background was just incredibly nice.
We had a full agenda of meetings with different tea experts planned for the four days. The first day started a little unsuccessfully since the first meeting was canceled on short notice. However, this gave us the great opportunity to explore a little bit of the city of Blantyre and to get first-hand impressions of Malawi.
Shopping on a market in Malawi
Fortunately, the next day started better and we had our first meeting at a tea estate (Lujeri). The meeting was great thanks to the positive and constructive feedback about our results. This was really important for us, to obtain opinions about our model and its outcome. First, I was relieved that our work had paid off and that we obtained such positive feedback. But soon I came to realize that this feedback also meant that climate change (our results say that less area in Malawi will be suitable for tea production in the future) has a strong negative impact on many people in Malawi.
Over the next couple of days we had meetings with another tea estate (EPM), two research institutions (TRF and Bvumbwe Research station) and the Smallholder Association (NSTGA). The latter meeting was the most emotional and dramatic one because the smallholders saw that their feeling about the future of Malawi’s tea production became confirmed by our results. They actually said that the end of tea production also meant “the end of Malawi” since so many people depend on tea. At this point, it was necessary to communicate that the future scenarios are only scenarios and there would be a way to cope with or take actions against, for example, deforestation in order to prevent the predicted unsuitable climate for tea. Although these emotions about the pessimistic future for tea production in Malawi were mentioned throughout every meeting, the meeting with the smallholders affected us the most.
Henriette Walz and Henderson Maposa (UTZ) in the workshop with the smallholder association NSTGA
All in all, it was a very interesting time in Malawi. We learned not only about tea production and farmers’ practices but also about the Malawian way of living. We had very good meetings, which gave us great feedback for our work. The general conclusion we can draw is that our results predict that Malawian tea-growing regions are going to be less suitable in the future because of increased temperature and less and unevenly distributed precipitation. These findings became confirmed by the experts and we received some valuable feedback about how to modify the variables of our model in order to refine the results. Therefore, as a next step, we are going to implement this feedback into our work in order to go back to Malawi and share these final results with the experts and stakeholders. Based on this, UTZ is going to develop climate-smart practices for tea production in Malawi to help the stakeholders to continue tea production in Malawi not only today but also in the future.
The authors of this blog:
Visiting Researcher- Climate Change
Postdoctoral Scientist-Linking Farmers To Markets