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Rubber and Tea. A changing landscape.

Agriculture has shaped our landscapes for thousands of years, though since the agricultural revolution, the speed of change has quickened. 

Nearly ten years ago, travelling around the prefecture of XiShuang BanNa (西双版纳; ᦈᦹᧈᦈᦹᧈᦋᦵᦲᧁᦘᦱᦉᦱᦑᦺ᧑᧒ᦗᧃᦓᦱ Sipsongpanna) at the southern tip of Yunnan, we were struck by the remoteness. This has change dramatically, especially in the last five years with the arrival of new infrastructure including high speed highways and a regional airport. 

A recent National Geographic article (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/rubber-boom-text) caught our attention. In this article the author Charles Mann looks at the rapid expansion of rubber cultivation in XiShuang BanNa.

From our travels, much of the region's landscape is now made up of tea, bananas, coffee and rubber. What was thick, natural forest has been replaced by agriculture.

 
YiWu district. Tea drying with banana and rubber plantations in the background.

Banana plantations and drying puer tea near YiWu - (c) WLTH 2015

 
 
Yunnan Tea Tours - YiWu Lan Tian Xia Rubber plantations

Rubber plantations behind a tea farmer's house near YiWu (c) WLTH

 

As the National Geographic article highlights the situation is very complex with many pros and cons for the numerous stakeholders. 

 

 

We had an interesting discussions with many people on related subjects during our travels. Some key issues were raised including the changing economics of the various cash crops. For example the value of 'Tai di' terrace grown puer tea and bananas have collapsed in the last few years, primarily due to over supply. Another sad fact is that rubber has been planted in many places below 1000m which from what we leant mean that the crops would not be successful in the long term, this seems to be due to poor eduction of farmers in the region, along with farmers copying others with out reliable cultivation information.

 

MengHai - Lao Man E - Clear cut mountains for tea cultivation

Mountains clear cut near Lao Man E for tea cultivation (c) WLTH

As South East Asia becomes increasingly integrated in the world, it is inevitable that regions like XiShuang BanNa, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will see their landscapes change even more. Let's hope that development is matched with knowledge, education and wisdom. Poor regions like these need the benefits that tea, coffee, rubber and banana's bring, but not at the cost of health, water and the environment.

 

Have you travelled to a tea producing region recently? Would you like to share a story with us? If please get in touch.

Wan Ling Tea House Tea Travels. Exploring the world of tea.


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