Cultivation, Improvement, and Environmental Impacts of Tea
- Mainaak MukhopadhyayMainaak MukhopadhyayDepartment of Botany, University of Kalyani
- and Tapan Kumar MondalTapan Kumar MondalDivision of Genomic Resources, ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources
Tea, the globally admired, non-alcoholic, caffeine-containing beverage, is manufactured from the tender leaves of the tea [Camellia sinensis (L.)] plant. It is basically a woody, perennial crop with a lifespan of more than 100 years. Cultivated tea plants are natural hybrids of the three major taxa or species, China, Assam (Indian), or Cambod (southern) hybrids based on the morphological characters (principally leaf size). Planting materials are either seedlings (10–18 months old) developed from either hybrid, polyclonal, or biclonal seeds, or clonal cuttings developed from single-leaf nodal cuttings of elite genotypes. Plants are forced to remain in the vegetative stage as bushes by following cultural practices like centering, pruning, and plucking, and they are harvested generally from the second year onward at regular intervals of 7–10 days in the tropics and subtropics, with up to 60 years as the economic lifespan. Originally, the Chinese were the first to use tea as a medicinal beverage, around 2000 years ago, and today, around half of the world’s population drink tea. It is primarily consumed as black tea (fermented tea), although green tea (non-fermented) and oolong tea (semifermented) are also consumed in many countries. Tea is also used as vegetables such as “leppet tea” in Burma and “meing tea” in Thailand.
Green tea has extraordinary antioxidant properties, and black tea plays a positive role in treating cardiovascular ailments. Tea in general has considerable therapeutic value and can cure many diseases. Global tea production (black, green, and instant) has increased significantly during the past few years. China, as the world’s largest tea producer, accounts for more than 38% of the total global production of made tea [i.e. ready to drink tea] annually, while production in India, the second-largest producer. India recorded total production of 1233.14 million kg made tea during 2015–2016, which is the highest ever production so far.
Since it is an intensive monoculture, tea cultivation has environmental impacts. Application of weedicides, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizers creates environmental hazards. Meanwhile, insecticides often eliminate the fauna of a vast tract of land. Soil degradation is an additional concern because the incessant use of fertilizers and herbicides compound soil erosion. Apart from those issues, chemical runoff into bodies of water can also create problems. Finally, during tea manufacturing, fossil fuel is used to dry the processed leaves, which also increases environmental pollution.