This is the first in a series by Curtis Frierson of oldgrowthtea.com on environmental issues relating to the tea industry.

Preserving China’s Old Growth Forest Region in The Yunnan Province

China’s old-growth forest region in the Yunnan province is home to over 3 million people and 30 endangered species. Its people are the embodiment of everything tea. Beneath the mountainous terrain and thick fog lie dense regions of old growth forests. Ancient arbor trees tower above the landscape, sprouted many centuries ago.

These forests gift us the most complex vintage pu-erh teas. A temperate climate, rich soil, and unique biodiversity: the perfect home for tea cultivation.

In the midst of this paradise, sustainability of the ecosystem’s biodiversity is under attack. First of all, the logging industry has free reign over many ancient forests. Also, commercial tea plantations threaten the livelihood of the Yunnan Province’s remote villages.  These local tea cultivators depend upon these natural resources for their livelihoods, as they have for generations.

Today, commercialized tea plantations are replacing old growth forests. Development of tea plantations destroys a region’s biodiversity and degrades forest quality. Also, plantations use fertilizers and pesticides which are harmful to tea consumers.

Chinese initial efforts to protect forests

Though the Chinese government designated over 2,500 nature preserves, only a small fraction of the preserves are actually managed. China’s government implemented the Natural Forests Protection Project to combat the effects of deforestation. Although intended to preserve natural forests, the logging industry remains wildly unregulated. In fact, a majority of the 2,500 reserves are quite vulnerable to destruction.

The Fight For Yunnan

One group fighting for forests is The Nature Conservancy’s Yunnan Project. The group is working with Chinese partners to protect the sanctity of old growth forests and tea cultivation communities. Much of their work involves educating local communities to make environmentally sound decisions, as well as installing alternative energy and managing nature reserves. You can help by becoming a member of the Nature Conservancy, volunteering abroad, or making a donation.

Greenpeace of East Asia is also working hard to protect China’s ancient forests. They are campaigning to end deforestation of ancient forests by 2020. Another important effort is their fight against the growth of commercial plantations. They do this through investigation and building awareness. If you choose to join them in battle, Greenpeace is always recruiting.

Make An Impact On Tea Communities

With over 1 billion tea drinkers in the world, we have the power to make a huge difference in the battle against illegal logging and the destruction of our old-growth forests.  Our duty as global citizens is to protect unique environments from harmful industries.

As a consumer, we must be aware of both the origin of our products and their processing methods. Consider our precious, vintage pu-erh teas. The next time you’re steeping a fresh cup, remember where it all started.