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11 Aug 2021 | China

Promoting sustainable, diversified livelihoods among tea farmers in Yunnan

Liu Rongkun & Yi Shaoliang

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Prof. Wang Yungang of the Tea Research Institute gives hands-on training on tea management among participants (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)

The Far Eastern Himalaya is experiencing a rapid development of agricultural production, organization, and management methods, which has led to varied changes in rural productivity. In the China part of the landscape, a new wave of educated and business-oriented farmers is becoming increasingly prominent, which sets the stage for wider adoption of modern, sustainable agriculture practices suited to the mountains. Against this backdrop, we partnered with Gongshan Zhicheng Yupin Tea Co. (a local company in Nujiang Prefecture) and the Tea Research Institute of the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences to organize a training workshop and study tour on sustainable agriculture and tea management in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southern Yunnan Province. The prefecture has a rich history of production of different types of Chinese tea that are highly regarded and widely consumed. Over 30 participants joined this event held on 22–24 June 2021, including indigenous tea farmers and cooperative leaders of the Lisu people from Fugong and Gongshan counties, as well as representatives from local township governments and the Gongshan Forestry and Grassland Bureau.

The training focused on tea plantation and management and pest control, alongside hands-on learning in the Tea Research Institute’s tea gardens and production workshops. The participants observed the production and post-production processes for green tea, black tea, and Pu’er tea, which helped them understand the standardized value chain of tea from cultivation to production to sale. They also learned how products can be marketed through online platforms and streaming apps such as WeChat, Taobao, and TikTok.

In addition to the training workshop, participants visited the old Banzhang Village to learn about its tea industry, especially how the management of old tea trees and quality control has contributed to the village becoming one of the wealthiest in China. They also visited other types of tea-related agricultural models – such as large-scale standardized tea plantations in Dadugang Village in Jinghong City and sightseeing agriculture in Xiaomengzhun Village in Lincang City – that integrate organic tea gardens with rose farms, where tourists can experience the beautiful rural scenery and enjoy scented rose tea, juice, vinegar, and flower cakes.


local tea farmers
Participants join local tea farmers in harvesting fresh tea leaves from plantations near Dadugang Village, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)
agricultural plains in Xiaomengzhun Village
Participants visit the agricultural plains in Xiaomengzhun Village, Lincang City, Yunnan Province (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)

Since Menghai County is renowned for its processing factories, the participants also visited Menghai Puren Agriculture Garden, which showcases multi-dimensional agricultural production: organic tea gardens, fruit tree orchards, poultry farming, and guesthouses integrated in one estate for livelihood diversification and enhanced income generation. Gong Zuirong, Founder and Director of the garden, shared with the participants how he started and developed a diversified agribusiness portfolio, including tea and fruit plantation, poultry and fish farming, and rural ecotourism (for example, tourists are invited to pluck fresh fruits such as waxberries and tangerines from trees). While sharing his experiences, Gong noted the importance of coordination with government bodies and communities for better and equitable distribution of economic benefits, while promoting biodiversity conservation and ecological protection.


Gong Zuirong
Gong Zuirong, Founder and Director of Menghai Puren Agriculture Garden, shares the salient features of multi-dimensional agriculture with a diversified agribusiness portfolio (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)
experimental tea fields
Participants visit the experimental tea fields of Tea Research Institute, Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Menghai County, Yunnan Province (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)

Participants from both Fugong and Gongshan counties appreciated the opportunity to learn about different, tested agricultural practices and build their understanding in leveraging local natural resources and diversifying their livelihoods beyond Chinese black cardamom plantations.

He Zhijun, Chief of Staff, Forestry and Grassland Bureau, Gongshan County, encouraged the participants to make good use of the learned knowledge back in their villages. He also pointed out that they should explore working closely with leading enterprises in the tea industry. Zeng Guang, Director, Zhicheng Yupin Tea Co., appreciated ICIMOD’s support in organizing the event: “The fermentation process to produce Pu’er tea originated in Menghai County. By learning from their best practices, especially where an integrated and multi-dimensional approach to agriculture has been adopted, we will ensure a sustainable future for agriculture development in Nujiang Prefecture.” Zeng Bao, a manager from Zhicheng Yupin Tea Co., also expressed his interest in registering a civil society organization that aims to promote indigenous cultures and biodiversity conservation in Nujiang Valley.

The training and study tour not only helped train agriculturalists on Gongshan’s tea industry development by honing their tea plantation and management skills but also promoted integrated sustainable mountain development in Nujiang Valley, in the heart of the Far Eastern Himalaya.

This training was followed by a workshop and exposure visit of community members from Fugong to Lijiang on 20–21 June 2021 to learn about sustainable livelihoods, ecotourism, and community-based climate change adaptation in mountain regions. We also conducted another workshop in Fugong County on nature-based solutions for rural revitalization in December 2020.


production of black tea
Learning the production of black tea in a tea production factory at the Tea Research Institute (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)
various types of tea
Understanding the various types of tea and their target market in the product showcase store at the Tea Research Institute (Photo: Liu Rongkun/The Ohio State University)

News coverage by the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences



Liu Rongkun is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University. He is also a consultant for HI-LIFE activities in China.


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