The site

Xishuangbanna is located in southwestern China, bordering Laos and Myanmar. It is one of the few tropical areas in China. With only 0.2% of the landmass it harbours nearly 20% of the wildlife and plant species of China. Monoculture rubber plantations have expanded beyond the rubber growing-limit to very high elevations, occupying 22% of Xishuangbanna. This has dramatically reduced biodiversity and threatens other ecosystem services. Local incomes come mainly from rubber revenue, placing the inhabitants in a vulnerable situation given the fluctuations of the natural rubber market.

The issues

Rubber monoculture expansion has placed great pressure on sustainable land use. The local government, in collaboration with scientists from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been exploring policy mechanisms to control forest conversion and provide economic incentives for forest restoration. The Government of Yunnan approved the ‘Regulation and administration of nature rubber growing in Xishuangbanna’ in 2011, which includes a regional environmental rewards’ mechanism, making it one of the most important regulations in Xishuangbanna. According to the regulation, developing a regional, market-based rewards’ scheme will be an opportunity for Xishuangbanna to bring back natural forests.

The concepts of ‘green rubber’ and ‘environmentally friendly rubber plantations’ were proposed by local governments to try and stop plantation expansion to higher elevations and bring biodiversity back to existing plantations through some kind of environmental services rewards’ scheme. A successful scheme would minimize the ‘opportunity cost’ of foregoing expansion of plantations and also increase biodiversity and other ecosystem services.  Optimal landscape design to alleviate poverty and also protect the environment was absent when RUPES was investigating the area.

To begin to address this, RUPES used spatially explicit modelling to find protected areas and also the best locations for rubber. RUPES also acted as an intermediary between local governments, central government agencies and scientific research teams by holding technical workshops, which allowed government officials and researchers to discuss the validation of research results and possible policies for efficiently solving problems .

Environmental services and the people involved

Environmental services

Improved landscape and biodiversity

People who provide the services

Farmers’ groups

People who benefit from the services

Plantation owners and local households

People who act as intermediaries between the providers and the beneficiaries

Environmental Protection Agency

Local residents were both providers and beneficiaries of environmental services. An optimal landscape design and rewards’ scheme would have to bridge the providers and beneficiaries to find a balance between maintaining livelihoods and improving environmental quality.

A five-year plan for bio-industries has been created by Dr Yi and other colleagues from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. A ‘green’, environmentally friendly rubber plantation was proposed as an important concept for government implementation.  According to the plan, two study sites of green rubber plantations have been established in Xishuangbanna, lead by the Botanical Garden and RUPES teams.  Experiments at the two sites included introducing  high market value tree species , cash crops and natural forest recovery rewards for environmental services’ schemes.

The rewards

RUPES in Xishuangbanna identified green rubber plantations, carbon sequestration for global markets and hydrological conservation for the local market, as potential activities that could provide suitable incentives to encourage local people to protect the environment. 

There were several main findings related to rewards’ schemes.

  1. Rubber productivity in Xishuangbanna is affected by environmental conditions, bioclimatic variables and soil conditions in the plantations. Even though productivity is heterogeneous across landscapes, elevation, slope and rubber tree age are the main factors affecting productivity in Xishuangbanna. Productivity varies between two different management methods: state farms and smallholdings. The productivity of the state farms was 25% higher than smallholdings. Local governments have been identified as an intermediary between the larger and smaller enterprises, through encouraging smallholders to learn from the state farms.
  2. Rubber monoculture plantations have expanded up to 1400 masl, with a negative effect on environmental protection and socio-economic development. Plantations situated above 900 masl or with a slope greater than 24⁰ were never profitable and a conversion ban should be enforced.
  3. Two land-use scenarios were identified: 1) ‘Business-as-usual’, in which rubber expands up to 1400 masl with current rate of plantation establishment; and 2) ‘Conservation’, in which reforestation occur along a biodiversity corridor and in low-profit rubber plantations. The finding was: the short-term irrationally monoculture rubber expansion, by Business-as-usual scenario, would bring higher opportunity cost of protecting environment in Xishuangbanna compared to Conservation scenarios.
  4. The results of the Distributed GIS-based Hydrological Model showed that low elevation areas where rubber plantations have established will be drier compared to other places in Xishuangbanna. Water is easier to be polluted in lowlands. To conserve and purify water will incur enormous costs over the next 25 years.
  5. Based on projected income from carbon finance and water markets, 51% (approximately 9700 km2) of Xishuangbanna can be protected.
  6. The Government of Xishuangbanna must pay more attention to market-based rewards’ schemes, which can mitigate local financial burdens. More detailed laws should be developed to ensure the diversity and sustainable sources of rewards’ schemes. 

RUPES continues to play an important role in linking multiple stakeholders and enhancing communications between policy-makers and researchers.


Awareness of the importance of environmental protection among local stakeholders who are involved in any rewards’ scheme should be evaluated through a further survey.

The ‘willingness to accept reforestation’ of farmers should be investigated and the proportion of land devoted to monoculture rubber plantations and the associated reforestation rate should be monitored.


  • Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Xishuangbanna Prefecture Government
  • Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences 

Contact for more information 

Dr Yi Zhuangfang, yi.zhuangfang@gmail.com