A professor at Montana State University other associated researchers have recently won a four-and-a-half year grant to study how the quality of tea is effected by shifts in weather, as reported by . Awarded by the National Science Foundation, the grant is worth $931,000.
Along with a group of researchers, Selena Ahmed, a MSU health and human development professor, will compile tea samples while studying and analyzing the chemistry and taste of tea. Specifically interested in the health benefits of drinking tea, Ahmed will specifically look for changes in the health properties of tea and how manufacturers and distributors can better the quality of their products. Additionally, Ahmed and her team will analyze economic changes based on the quality changes in the tea industry.
“If the taste and chemistry of tea are so sensitive to the rains, how do shifting precipitation patterns of global climate change impact tea quality, farmer livelihoods and human well-being?” Ahmed asks.
Yunnan Province, China
Seven years ago, Ahmed began researching tea quality for her doctorate about the effects of land management and weather patterns affected tea crops in the Yunnan Province of China. The tea farmers she interviewed made note of the changes in the taste of the tea from year to year.
“It became clear to me that farmers were concerned about land-use change and climate change,” Ahmed says. “I began to collect evidence that these changes were impacting their food and tea systems, and that farmers perceived that such environmental and management changes impact the health benefits derived from crops.”
She continues, “My preliminary research shows that antioxidant compounds that contribute to tea’s health benefits can decrease as much as 50 percent with the onset of the monsoons, while other compounds increase. It’s complex, and we are trying to elucidate patterns in this complexity.”
Ahmed will begin working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Tufts University and the University of Florida to collect and study tea samples from multiple sites in three provinces of China. Ahmed is a co-principal investigator, the lead international investigator, and the project coordinator on the grant. This project is one of 21 projects funded this year by the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program, which focuses on human interactions with the environment.
As part of their field research, Ahmed and a team member will travel to China and collect data such as tea leaf size and other qualities. Then, the tea samples will be analyzed at Montana State University for its health and chemical properties.
Ahmed will also conduct hundreds of interviews with tea farmers and tea traders in the Yunnan Province. Her interviews will emphasize the perceptions farmers have about the changes in weather in the region and their willingness to pay for tea on the basis of how they perceive tea quality.
With this grant and extensive research, Ahmed aims to provide important information that will help people better manage agro-ecosystems in the face of environmental variations and risks associated with extreme weather.
“This research could influence management decisions – not just with tea, but with other crops as well,” Ahmed said. “If there’s a more sustainable way of growing crops, the information will have implications around the globe, including here in Montana.”