The fourth Humidtropics Platform in the Mekong region was launched on September 24 in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China. Fifty stakeholders attended from government, research, business and NGO sectors. Two thirds of the participants were local, and the remainder came from Yunnan or National level organisations.
Xishuangbanna is famous within China for biodiversity and cultural diversity: it covers 0.2% of China’s land area, but harbors 16% of China’s plant species, 22% of mammals, and 36% of birds. There are eight distinct major ethnic groups with separate languages, and many sub-groups amongst the ethnicities. A little under half of the land is still forested; mostly the higher parts of the steep hills. The valley bottoms and lower hillsides are completely covered with rubber plantations (about a quarter of the total land area) or banana. Tea is the second most valuable crop after rubber; the region has a long and proud history of tea cultivation and trading.
One of the most enthusiastic Platform members was the Xishuangbanna Government’s Bio-Industrial Crops Office. Their remit is to develop new crops, and the markets for new crops, which both increase incomes and improve environmental services. On the day before the Platform launch they took twenty of us to see some of their projects. The first was a five thousand hectare demonstration area for intercropped rubber, where the rubber had been planted on alternating terraces with timber species and the landscape zoned and protected according to ecologically sensitive areas (such as water catchments). The second location was a tea factory where all tea was processed, pressed and wrapped using the traditional methods. The tea leaves themselves come from local large leaf varieties which are grown according to an ecological standard which entails less use of chemicals and intercropping of species to enhance biodiversity. Finally we visited an orchid growing project. Orchids are attached to timber tree species using a mesh wrap and grown for sale as medicinal plants or tea, providing an annual income and making use of the vertical space within the forest.
The Platform meeting was held in a comfortable hotel in Jinghong City, the capital of Xishuangbanna. The ten thousand tons or so of tropical timber stacked in the hotel car park next to the Rolls Royce was a poignant reminder of both the necessity of the type of work that we do, and the economic benefits that can be reaped from resource extraction. The timber most probably came from Myanmar or Laos, destined to be converted into luxury furniture for the Chinese market. Independently a local café owner told us about increased human-elephant conflicts and increased sightings of tigers, both assumed to be driven by habitat loss in Myanmar and Laos. The international elements of Humidtropics are underlined by such stories.
Platform participants whose work covered almost every township in Xishuangbanna attended the meeting. Based on the first draft of the Situation Analysis Report, stakeholders agreed on six entry themes the Platform should address: Changing the Structure of Agricultural Production; Nature Reserve and Surrounding Community Development; Eco-tourism: Maintaining Nature And Minority Cultures; International Cooperation; Impacts of Land Use Policy on Minority Groups; and Corporate Social Responsibility.
Changing the structure of agricultural production was easily the biggest topic of the day; reflecting the rapid and obvious blanket cover of monocrops in much of Xishuangbanna. The main strategy was to design systems whereby farmers can move from monocrop rubber to rubber intercropped with high value medicinal plants, nuts, orchids, timber trees. The plan is that the high value intercropped species provide a financial bridge to make up for the shortfall in rubber yields until the first timber trees can be cut. Ultimately, this plan aims towards a forest-crop mosaic landscape rather than a rubber monocrop.
Stakeholders decided to name to Platform: 全球热带农村可持续发展项目西双版纳联盟, or Xishuangbanna Alliance for Rural Sustainability. Some stakeholders expressed keen interest to participate in future meetings, volunteered staff time and potentially future sponsorship. The field trip and meeting had been attended by a journalist and cameraman, who reported the launch of Humidtropics in Xishunagbanna on the front page of Xishuangbanna’s newspaper and also reported on the local television news.
The Platform has a busy few months ahead. Entry themes will be further developed in a workshop using the Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Innovation Systems (RAAIS) tool; the Platform will engage in a study on the stakeholder dynamics of bringing innovations to scale in December; and the Platform group will host a two-day facilitator capacity building workshop followed by a three-day Mekong Region planning meeting.
Blog and photos by James Hammond, Agro-Ecosystem Researcher, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
Watch James explain what Humidtropics is all about: