widerimage.reuters.com
Climate-fuelled drought forces Taiwan tea farmer in search of water
Jiayi, TAIWAN
Photography by
Ann Wang.

Reporting by
Ben Blanchard.
Updated 1 November
33 images
Chien Shun-yih looks out over his withering tea fields in Taiwan's picturesque southern Meishan township and lets out a sigh.
A once-in-a-century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated his crop and left Taiwan's tea farmers scrambling to adapt to the extreme weather changes.
"Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation," the 28-year-old Chien told Reuters. "We really do rely on the sky to eat."
Chien looks at dried up tea leaves on his farm.
Taiwan's tea output does not come close to matching China or India's, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, especially the high mountain premium Oolong variety that Meishan specialises in.
Tea has been grown in the mountains around Meishan since the island was part of China's Qing dynasty in the 19th century. The industry matured and expanded under Japanese imperial rule from 1895-1945.
Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves.
Chien, who returned to run the family plantation after his father died of cancer four years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather, including hacking deep into the undergrowth to look for pools to pipe water to the fields.
Lin Shiou-ruei, a government researcher helping Meishan's farmers, said another problem the extreme weather brings is pests that attack the young tea buds.
"Pests love the dry and the heat," she said at her experimental fields in Taoyuan in northern Taiwan. "Previously it wouldn't be hot until around May to July, but now in April it's already really hot."
Chien rests after reaching the water tower he built in the middle of the forest.
Lin is working to educate farmers about the pests that proliferate with climate change, and how to identify and manage them.
Her boss, senior agronomist Tsai Hsien-tsung, said they began monitoring weather changes in the tea country four years ago and have already seen the crop's flavour alter with the seasons.
"Temperatures are going up, rainfall is going down. There is less moisture in the air," he said. "Tea is very sensitive."
Lin holds up a container of microorganism pure culture.
However, whether or not what is happening in Taiwan's tea country is directly related to climate change remains an area for debate.
Chen Yung-ming, head of the Climate Change Division at Taiwan's National Science and Technology Centre for Disaster Reduction, said it was not possible to blame the drought on climate change.
"We can only say that the chance of continuous drought will increase," he said.
Chien and his team smell the tea while it's rolling in a basket to determine whether it's ready.
Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg (1,300 lb) of tea this year, half of last year's crop, due to the drought and rain, but says he is determined not to be beaten.
"These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too."
(Photo editing Kezia Levitas; Text editing Karishma Singh; Layout Kezia Levitas)
1 / 27
SLIDESHOW

Chien spreads freshly harvested tea in the sun to dry naturally.

More from
Ann Wang
Subscribe to the week’s best stories
Previous
"Our whole life depends on water" climate change, pollution and dams threaten Iraq's Marsh Arabs
Chebayesh
Editor’s choice
Recommended
A ghostly landscape
Nazare Paulista
Next
In love, but apart, as they fight fires in the American West
Augusta
More Stories
Doctors scale rockslides, invoke gods to vaccinate Himalayan villages
Malana
Editor’s choice
In Haiti, festive wakes and Voodoo undertakers help mourners say their last goodbyes
Grand-Bera
Interactive
September 11 attacks fuse photographer and survivor in trauma
Suwanee
Brazil's indigenous rights hinge on one tribe's legal battle
Jose Boiteux
Elon Musk's satellites beam internet into Chilean boy's life
Sotomo
Nigeria's hyena men put maligned animals centre stage
Kano
"We are scared the country will become a desert," Yemen's forests are next casualty of war
Al-Mahweet
Tokyo 2020 Olympics: From the sidelines
Tokyo
Interactive
Senegalese plant circular gardens in Green Wall defence against desert
Boki Diawe
Grim aftermath of Ethiopian battle offers rare clues of brutal war
Tigray
Editor’s choice
Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui captured the people behind the story
Shah Porir Dwip
Editor’s choice
The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch made a transgender haven. Then the violent threats began
Westcliffe
Back to Top
Reuters
We have updated our Privacy Statement. Before you continue, please read our new
Privacy Statement and familiarize yourself with the terms.
×
Follow UsLike UsFind Us Editor's Choice Interactive Behind the News Cultural Atlas Forces of Industry Living Planet Moment of History Perspective Shifting Society Tales of the Unexpected StoriesPhotographers Latest As tragedy strikes Channel migrants, another journey has safe landing Recommended Life on a deadly border Follow UsLike UsFind UsSubscribeiPad AppAboutFAQsContactRSSBack to reuters.com