29.10.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

From bamboo to tea: sustainable development in biosphere reserves

Established in 1987, Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve is also a World Heritage site. The site is exceptional for Mount Wuyi’s unique sub-tropical forests and the mountain’s status as the birthplace of Confucianism.


In 1994, the biosphere reserve set up the Joint Protection Committee for Fujian Wuyishan National Nature Reserve to involve all the villages in environmental protection schemes. In parallel, it supported the development of alternative livelihoods in the transition area like the planting of bamboo. In recent years, beekeeping, eco-tourism, catering, transportation and other industries have also begun to bring good returns.

In 1998, China revised its Forest Law by imposing a logging ban on forests in natural reserves.  The administrative bureau of the biosphere reserve subsequently convened meetings with every village to discuss how to use the ban to foster environmentally responsible economic development. From 1998 to 2001, funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) were used to allot grants to villagers for ecological forest management and to compensate them for the loss of the right to exploit the forest. More than 150 villagers were employed as wardens by the reserve.

By the turn of the century, the biosphere reserve was seeking to reduce its dependence on bamboo. In January 2002, it set up a research group to study the origins of Lapsang Souchong tea, only to find that the Wuyishan Nature Reserve was the birthplace of this tea variety. Almost overnight, the economic structure of the biosphere reserve changed, with local tea production rapidly improving villagers’ income levels by about US$1 000 a year. Moreover, as the tea plantations occupy the same sites on which the original tea was grown, no new land has had to be reclaimed.

Taken from A World of Science, Vol.9 N°4, an issue celebrating MAB’s 40th anniversary
Source: Building an Ecologically Harmonious Civilization (.pdf, 2010), produced in English and Chinese by the Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve, UNESCO Beijing Office, Chinese National MAB Committee and East Asian Biosphere Reserve Network

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