Profile: Manxing Eco‑Village, Yunnan

It is late morning on a hot September day as our car winds around the edge of a valley and enters Manxing village. The narrow streets look paved in gold, but the illusion is dispelled as we soon see they are carpeted in maize kernels, there to dry on the warm concrete.

We are in Menghai county in Xishuangbanna prefecture. This southern corner of Yunnan Province is nearly the furthest southern point of the PRC, and the borders of Myanmar and Thailand are about 60 kilometers away. It is one of the pilot areas in the GMS where CEP has worked with local communities and government to establish biodiversity conservation corridors.

The village’s hundred or so houses are terraced on a hill, overlooking the small valley. Despite the heat, some villagers are at work, raking corn kernels, shelling nuts, sweeping yards, or stirring embers to boil water for tea. The village is quiet though. All but the youngest children are in school, and we learn that most of the adults are away in the bigger towns, working in restaurant or construction jobs.

Manxing is by no means a wealthy place now, but life was much tougher just a decade ago, as it was for many rural villages in the prefecture. Most families were poorer then, making a basic living planting corn and sugar cane. “We only had dirt roads and they turned to mud in the rainy season making it impossible for vehicles to come here,” a villager tells us.

Development reached nearly every corner of Yunnan Province, no matter how isolated, in the 1990s. As elsewhere in the country, government support in Manxing initially prioritized basic infrastructure, such as paved roads and better housing. With modern roads, employment and trade opportunities gradually opened up for the villagers. Tea and other crops could be grown to generate some income, not just for subsistence.

The local produce now goes to distant markets in northern PRC, such as the watermelon that dominates the fertile valley floor just below the village.

While the economic situation slowly improved, environmental problems worsened. Forested areas were cut down for firewood or cleared for farmland. Wastewater treatment was non-existent, and rubbish disposal often meant refuse was tipped into the nearest stream or gully. These environmental impacts extended much further than Manxing, which is 1 of 40 villages in a 15,000-hectare strip of land between two nature reserves. The forest cover there has been slowly destroyed over the years, causing the loss of an important habit. This has severely affected the animals, such as the endangered gaur, which need to move between the two nature reserves.

In 2009, CEP and Yunnan environment officials mapped out that strip of land as a priority biodiversity corridor. Manxing village leaders were then asked to participate in a project that would turn Manxing into a demonstration village to show how the village environment could be improved and the corridor protected. Local officials and villagers put together an eco-village plan, and through CEP and government funding for the next 3 years, a range of interventions helped achieve both goals.

Over 60 villagers were taught eco-farming, such as planting mixed tea and tree plantations and medicinal plant gardens. One villager, whose livelihood depended on gathering wild honey from the forest, was taught to build bee hives and how to farm honey. Tree nurseries were set up and seeds collected. More than 40 hectares of degraded natural forest were replanted with local tree species. A village patrol team was set up to guard 2,000 hectares of forest.

In Manxing itself, 20 solar street lamps and a waste collection system were installed. An artificial wetland was built below the village, enabling wastewater to be naturally filtered and safely dispersed. Retaining walls were built to stop erosion around the village. A village development fund was established to provide low interest loans to help secure livelihoods.

The villagers we talked with voiced their appreciation of the support to transform their community into an eco-village. Some were glad about the cleaner environment, others spoke of how their crop yields and incomes had improved from learning eco-farming practices. The development fund was welcomed as being particularly helpful in times of need.

Although Manxing is now a successful eco-village, not all the interventions there can be replicated in other villages in the corridor at the same scale. Even so, local and provincial authorities are planning projects and mobilizing funds to ensure that the best practices are introduced throughout Xishuangbanna’s biodiversity corridors in the coming years.

“The CEP project promoted the concept of sustainable development of the environment and natural resources. The project protected our ecosystem, and living conditions and the livelihoods of local people greatly improved.”
-- Lianxian Zhu, Vice Director, Menghai Environment Protection Bureau

Publish Date: 1st March 2018

Last Updated: 4th March 2018

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