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Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves on a plantation in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021.
Copyright  ANN WANG/REUTERS

Farmers struggling with drought won’t give up: Not for all the tea in Taiwan

By Scott Brownlee

Extreme weather experienced in Taiwan over the last two years is forcing tea farmers to find creative ways to keep their crops alive.

After surviving a once-in-a-century drought, tea plantations in the mountains of Taiwan have been hit by torrential rain in recent months, causing a chain reaction that is proving difficult to recover from.

Hacking into the undergrowth to find water for their crops, farmers say that this year’s harvest is down about 50 per cent on last year.

ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea farmer rests after reaching the water tower he built in the middle of the forest in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves on a plantation, in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea farmer points out at his tea plantation from his car in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
After surviving a once-in-a-century drought, tea plantations in the mountains of Taiwan have been hit by torrential rain in recent months
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Students learn how to hand-roll tea at a training workshop at the Tea Research and Extension Station in Nantou, Taiwan, May 5, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Researcher at the Tea Research and Extension Station, shows microorganism pure culture for research on pest growth on tea plantations in Taoyuan, Taiwan, May 12, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS

Another unexpected side-effect of this extreme weather is a dramatic increase in pests on plantations. As summers are growing longer there is less moisture in the air, which is allowing certain pests to thrive, adding an extra challenge for local farmers.

The tea plantations in the mountains around Meishan are key to the local economy, employing locals who are paid based on the weight they are able to collect in a day.

The drop in crops has a direct impact on these local workers, and some are getting creative in response, strapping razor blades to their fingers to collect tea as quickly as possible

ANN WANG/REUTERS
A tea harvester wraps blades around her fingers before starting a day of work in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Staff collect their wages, based on the weight of tea they have harvested that day, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea harvesting staff work in the high altitude mountainside tea fields in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves on a plantation, in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS

In June this year, Taiwan - which typically experiences its wet season between June and September - introduced water restrictions. This followed concerns over historically low rainfall during the previous year, which led to an unprecedented drought.

However, since September of this year, the island has been battered by torrential rain and typhoons sparking fears of landslides after such a long period of drought.

Unfortunately, the delayed wet season seems to have been too little, too late for the tea farmers of Taiwan for this year’s harvest.

ANN WANG/REUTERS
Farmers smell the tea while it's rolling in a basket, to determine whether it's ready, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Tea farmer checks a broken pipe connecting to a water tank, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS
ANN WANG/REUTERS
Farmer and his team spread freshly harvested tea in the sun to dry naturally before starting the fermentation process, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021.ANN WANG/REUTERS

Although Taiwan produces much less tea than large producers like China and India, the Oolong variety that is grown in the mountains around Meishan is revered and sought after around the globe.

Tea has been grown in these mountains since the island was part of China's Qing dynasty in the 19th century, the industry then matured and expanded under Japanese imperial rule from 1895-1945.