Biodiversity Conservation Yields Organic Tea

Li and other tea farmers cultivating Xinyang Maofeng tea in the mountainous regions of Xinyang Municipal

As a seasoned tea farmer, Li Mingshui is well acquainted with Xinyang Maofeng tea, one of the most famous green teas in China. “To cultivate the best tea leaves, it is important to find a place with amiable weather and quality water supply. So mountains provide suitable conditions for tea to grow,” said Li.

Green tea, abundantly available in China, is an important commodity for Li. Every year the mountains attract hundreds of tourists who come to buy quality tea from local farmers. Ensuring that they yield the best tea is of utmost importance to the farmers of Xinyang.

Together with 170 tea farmers in Luoshan County, Li formed the Lingdingfeng Natural Tea Professional Cooperative Agency, in efforts to boost tea brand, quality and ultimately price.  However, many farmers in the agency used chemical fertilizers and pesticides in tea production, whose harmful production techniques not only jeopardized the land and water quality of the plantation but also negatively impacted the price of tea. “As we did not meet the requirements for certification as organic products, without substantial evidence, we couldn’t raise the price of our tea.” said Li.


  • The review of 374 policies in Xinyang municipals led to the amendment of 7 agriculture and forestry policies/announcements that previously had negative environment impacts.
  • 18 eco-friendly local government guidelines and mechanisms in economic sectors were developed and implemented in 11 demonstration sites, benefiting more than 3,000 ha (45,000 mu) of land and approximately 2,100 households.
  • The Municipal Land Use Plan 2010-2020 was amended to incorporate special zoning and land use regulations for a large eco-corridor covering more than 135,000 ha of land

The agency’s 340 ha of tea plantations in Luoshan County is located around Dongzhai National Nature Reserve. Although not positioned inside the protected areas themselves, the tea-rich mountains serve to protect the ecosystem and conserve biodiversity.

In 2000 UNDP, together with the Xinyang Municipal Government of Henan Province, launched the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in The Headwaters of Huaihe River Basin project as a pilot site to address national environmental management objectives and to conserve global biodiversity value. The headwater of the Huaihe River Basin and its biodiverse mountainous regions is one Important Ecological Function Areas (IEFAs). IEFAs such this are defined as areas that play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of a river basin or a region.

The project sets up an effective mechanism that links IEFA conservation goals with economic activities - which in Xinyang is protecting the plantations to boost productivity of the agriculture sector. Following a review of 374 policies, the project helped to develop a series of local government guidelines, including the amendment of 7 policies/announcements that previously had negative environmental impacts. For the tea farmers in Luoshan County, the local government issued the Plan for the Development of the Tea Industry (2013-2020) and introduced advanced organic tea production techniques.

“We received training around tree cropping and infusing and now have a more species-diverse plantation!” said Li. With improved techniques, the plantations are able to maintain a more stable ecosystem; likewise, newly equipped solar-powered insect traps and sticky cards can help the plantations better control the reproduction of harmful insects, reducing the use of pesticides.

In addition, the farmers also received technical support which helped increase tea productivity in an organic way. Li said that following the introduction of natural fertilizers such as biogas slurry and sewage, tea yield had increased. “We had a 10 percent increase in production this year and were able to pick more leaves that could meet the premium level standard.” With improved quality, farmers were able to charge 30 percent more on the market price for their tea. “Our income increased from 8000 (CNY) to 12,000 (CNY) per farmer per year”.

In total, there were 11 biodiversity-friendly production demonstration sites like the tea plantation implemented in Xinyang, benefiting more than 3,000 ha (45,000 mu) of land and approximately 2,100 households. The five-year long project also helped promote the amendment of the Municipal Land Use Plan 2010-2020 towards incorporating special regulations for a large corridor of more than 135,000 ha of land.

In 2013, Li’s agency applied for certification for their tea as an organic product and are still optimistically awaiting approval.  “We’ve passed all the requirements of organic products, including the quality of our tea as well as the soil and water conditions in the plantation. Thanks to the eco-friendly production techniques, we are going to have certified proof of our organic tea.”

The Huaihe project was designed under the China Biodiversity Partnership and Framework for Action (CBPF) to place biodiversity conservation as a priority in social-economic sectors, plans and investment decisions. The framework has been developed for a 10 year period (2007-2017) to achieve the broader goal of significantly reducing the rate of biodiversity loss and simultaneously contributing to China’s sustainable development.

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