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Ecological Governance of Rubber in Xishuangbanna, China
Author: Janet C Sturgeon
ArticleSource: Conservation and Society
Update time: 2015-06-01
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In recent years, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden (XTBG) and the Xishuangbanna prefecture government have woken up to the environmental threat that extensive monoculture rubber cultivation poses in this tropical site in southern Yunnan. In response, XTBG has become a centre of knowledge production on how to restore some ethnic minority farmers' rubber fields to natural forest. As is common globally, the plan relies on mainstream ecology and leaves out farmers' experience and opinions. Curiously, in the 1980s and 1990s XTBG was a centre of human ecology research on farmers' knowledge about managing ecosystems and protecting biodiversity. This paper traces the transformation in the values, actors, institutional configurations, and epistemic communities that enabled farmers' experiences to be central to knowledge production and inscription across surrounding landscapes in the 1980s and 1990s, only to be disparaged and ignored in the production of knowledge and landscapes in the 2000s. Farmers who once taught XTBG scientists the names of species and how to survive on them during the Cultural Revolution are now excluded from determining how to restore those same species to the hills around them. Our analysis suggests possible pathways for ecological knowledge to be generated as well as lost.

Keywords: rubber cultivation, epistemic communities, XTBG, ethnic minority farmers, Xishuangbanna, China



Introduction   Top


In recent years, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden (XTBG) and the Xishuangbanna prefecture government have woken up to the environmental threat that extensive monoculture rubber cultivation poses in this tropical site in southern Yunnan. Rubber is thought to change hydrological dynamics and produce a drier, warmer climate (Wu et al. 2001; Ziegler et al. 2009). A potential environmental crisis coupled with concern for the rubber-based prefecture economy has made XTBG a centre of knowledge production on the problem and possible solutions, since prefecture officials and XTBG scientists worry that a warmer, drier climate will eventually undermine the viability of rubber itself. Since the 1960s, rubber has been produced on 10 large state rubber farms in Xishuangbanna, but beginning in the 1980s, when the People's Communes of the 1960s and 1970s were being dismantled and land contracted to ethnic minority farmers, smallholder farmers cultivated rubber on their own lands. In the face of environmental concerns, XTBG has developed a plan to do ecological restoration on some farmers' rubber fields by planting indigenous trees. The plan is to conduct restoration experiments on selected farmers' fields, and once appropriate species and locations have been scientifically determined, scientists will persuade more farmers to replace some of their rubber fields with natural forest.


This story bears a remarkable similarity to others throughout the world where ecologists and conservation biologists, faced with purported environmental crises, seek to reduce regional climate change and reverse biodiversity loss, also a problem in Xishuangbanna. A number of factors give this story a twist that highlights its importance in examining ecological governance. One factor is that state prefecture campaigns in 1985, 1995, and 2003, exhorted and subsidised farmers to plant rubber on household lands, with the result that by 2000, the total area in rubber on farmers' fields exceeded the rubber area on state farms. Farmers have been doing what the state told them to do to increase household incomes and produce more latex for national domestic consumption. Second, since China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, with the rapidly rising world rubber price, farmers in Xishuangbanna have been getting rich. Understandably, they are not keen to replace rubber with trees of unknown economic value. Third, the XTBG plans target farmers' fields to the exclusion of state rubber farms, even though both sites contribute to biodiversity loss and possible climate change. And fourth, farmers have been left out of the conversation. In other places, this would be unremarkable, but the history of XTGB and its involvement with a number of international conservation and development organisations and in particular with philanthropic organisations such as Winrock International and the Ford Foundation makes it surprising that farmers have not been consulted from the outset. From the 1970s to the 1990s, XTBG Chinese scientists carried out numerous well-known ethnobotanical studies on Xishuangbanna ethnic minority groups, documenting, among other things, biodiversity preservation in farmers' home courtyards and temple grounds and their indigenous knowledge about forest regeneration on shifting cultivation lands. Additionally, over a period of around 10 years from 1989 to the late 1990s, the Ford Foundation's Beijing office funded research and training in participatory methods of learning from, and planning with, farmers. The question then becomes, where did this focus on participation and farmers' knowledge go?


To address this question, this paper sets out to analyse the values, actors, institutional configurations, and epistemic communities that made possible, for a while, a plethora of studies on 'indigenous knowledge' as well as the inclusion of farmers in discussions on how to maintain biodiversity and increase household incomes. Some of the driving values have not changed in 30 years, but are now cast in quite a different light. By tracing changes in institutional alliances, international influences, scientific personnel, rewards for publication, and the gradual emergence of XTBG as an international scientific institution, we suggest possible pathways for ecological knowledge to be generated and to be lost.



 Research methods 


This article combines findings from multiple methods over three decades. From 1988 to 1990, Nick Menzies was programme leader for Winrock International's Yunnan Uplands Management (YUM) Programme with Ford Foundation funding. From 1990 to 1995, Menzies was the programme officer at Ford Foundation, Beijing responsible for YUM and other projects in Yunnan. His many interviews, informal conversations, and field visits from 1988 to 1995 inform much of our knowledge about XTBG and the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) at that time, supplemented by recent interviews with Pei Shengji and Terry Rambo, who were major players in the early days. During these years, Janet Sturgeon was the Winrock International programme officer for China who oversaw the YUM programme.


In 1995, Sturgeon began doctoral dissertation research in Xishuangbanna. Her home institution was KIB, where Xu Jianchu was her host, and her main support institution in Xishuangbanna was XTBG. Information on XTBG is drawn from her interviews and informal conversations with XTBG staff at that time, in addition to subsequent stays and interviews at XTBG in 2006 and 2010. From 2004 to 2008, Menzies and Sturgeon both participated in a National Science Foundation-funded research project on the adoption of cash crops as a result of the new superhighway linking Kunming (China) with Bangkok (Thailand). We were members of the China team looking at the adoption of tea and rubber in Xishuangbanna. Our semi-structured interviews at XTBG, five state rubber farms, and over 30 villages where minority farmers cultivate rubber contributed to the data about recent transformations and state attitudes toward minority farmers.


In the summer of 2010, Noah Schillo spent four months based at XTBG for his master's research on rubber farmers' attitudes toward restoration of their rubber fields to natural forest. His research combined semi-structured interviews, participatory mapping, and formal and informal interviews with XTBG scientists. His experience provides information about farmers' recent responses to ecological restoration as well as XTBG scientists' take on farmers' knowledge. In addition to our field experience, all three authors drew on written reports, the scholarly literature, and relevant websites. We know that our research, particularly that of Nick Menzies, is not replicable except perhaps by Chinese scholars who participated in these changes. In this sense, we provide a unique contribution to the literature.


Conceptual framework 


We are comparing the world views and scientific practices surrounding XTBG in the 1980s with those in the 2000s, and offering an explanation for the transition between the two. In both periods, the driving values were conservation of biodiversity and economic growth, but the scientific paradigms and practices differ considerably between these two time periods. Scholars of land transformations have traced the assemblages of institutions, ideas, practices, and values that become inscribed both in knowledge production and across the landscape (Mitchell 2002; Li 2007). For the most part, our analysis focuses more narrowly on the epistemic communities-the earlier one that emphasised farmers' indigenous knowledge about biodiversity conservation in contrast to the more recent one that focuses on biodiversity conservation as a science in which farmers play no part. We feature epistemic communities following Haas (1992), who refers to an episteme as a world view, or an understanding of how the world works. As Haas notes, for scientists a world view is close in meaning to a paradigm, which as Kuhn (1962) indicates, lays out the theory, methods, and research questions that scientists follow as long as the paradigm provides a convincing episteme of how the world works. In our case study, subtle adjustments in institutional connections among scientists and research institutions allow us to trace the gradual changes from including farmers in epistemic communities to excluding them altogether. Our study goes beyond the analysis of other studies in this special section to consider the degree of political openness to international scholars and globally-circulating ideas, since in China political openness as decided in Beijing largely determined who was allowed to participate in epistemic communities. Also differing from other cases, our findings show a change from inclusion of local ecological knowledge in science and development (1980s and 1990s) to exclusion of local knowledge from science and plans for ecological restoration (2000s). Farmers are now left out of the world views and practices related to knowledge production and application. We also show how this exclusion from knowledge production and scientific plans may result in farmers' losing control over use of some of the lands contracted to them by the government. Property in natural resources defined as a bundle of rights includes the right to decide how to use those resources. In that sense, even though farmers will not necessarily lose land through the restoration projects, their loss of the right to decide what crops to plant represents a loss of control (Menzies and Peluso 1992; Menzies 2007: 137-158). Scientists will make the land use decisions instead. By highlighting this issue, we show how the influence of scientists on governance in Xishuangbanna participates in the global phenomenon of the rule of experts (Mitchell 2002), in which local participation in decision-making is eliminated.



Institutional history 


The Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden (XTBG) was established in 1959 at the urging of Cai Xitao, a botanist sent to explore possibilities for research in this little-known prefecture (XTBG website). Xishuangbanna is located in the transition zone between tropical Southeast Asia and sub-tropical East Asia, a zone that holds a plethora of diverse species. The Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) had been set up in Kunming, the provincial capital, in 1938, even before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Since the late nineteenth century, international botanists had investigated the remarkable number of plant species in Yunnan, with its rugged topography ranging from permanent snow mountains in the northeast close to Tibet to tropical Xishuangbanna in the far south (Rock 1948; Mueggler 2011). These early international botanists focused mostly on Yunnan's northwest, leaving Xishuangbanna unexplored. Shortly after 1949, the central government established XTBG to collect species from around the world and to document tropical and sub-tropical botanical species in Xishuangbanna. As Cai Xitao noted at the time (China Daily 2009a), XTBG would learn from Bogor Botanic Garden in Indonesia, and 'catch up with' the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, the master model of all botanic gardens (Brockway 1979). Both KIB and XTBG are national research institutes directly under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in recognition of the importance Beijing accorded to Yunnan's profusion of plants. Before 1958 and the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), Chinese scientists who had studied in the USA could use their internationally-acquired knowledge and connections to develop XTBG (Pei Shengji pers. comm. 2012). The international connections were limited, but the epistemic community included scholars outside China. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, young botanists at XTBG, under the direction of Cai Xitao, were charged to 'comprehensively research plant ecology and cultivation, then develop tropical plant science and a botanical garden' (China Daily 2009b). By 1965, these scientists were embarked on building a 'world-class botanical garden' (China Daily 2009b). The onslaught of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) severed international connections and put an end to much of their scientific work. Thirty XTBG scientists were persecuted for being 'intellectuals' and Cai Xitao was incarcerated from 1965 to 1971. During the Cultural Revolution, about one-third of XTBG's plant specimens were destroyed (XTBG website). To get food, other young botanists, including Pei Shengji and Xu Zaifu, who were later to become successive directors of the Botanic Garden, had to learn 'basic survival skills from the indigenous ethnic minorities, such as hunting and gathering for food' (Chen Jin, quoted in China Daily 2009b). Through hunting and gathering excursions with farmers, these botanists began to discover that the best way to find out about plants and trees was to talk to local farmers who had names for them all. As Pei Shengji described it, 'If we had not learned about the plants in the forest from the local people we would have died of hunger and disease' (Pei Shengji pers. comm. 2012) Their collaborations with farmers and inquiries into plants led to the identification of minority land-use systems, some of them, such as shifting cultivation, based on processes of regeneration. Ethnobotany was a recognised field in China at that time, allowing botanists to see the scientific as well as the survival value of what they learned from ethnic minority villagers.


Researchers from the Kunming Institute of Ecology (KIE) also spent the Cultural Revolution at XTBG. Feng Yaozong, the KIE director, focused on ecosystem management, a notion that included humans and plants in managed systems, and had his team work with farmers in designing and testing ecosystems (Menzies Field notes 1989). Feng sought to develop man-made ecosystems to solve problems such as erosion, low agricultural productivity, and loss of forest biodiversity. In Feng's view, scientists devised the solutions, but farmers should be consulted to identify problems. Within XTBG, Feng and his researchers also set up experimental plots to test multiple-cropping systems with tea and rubber as man-made ecosystems (Menzies Field notes 1990 and 1991). It should be noted that these approaches to working with farmers, whether from botanists or ecologists, were highly unusual in China and indeed worldwide at that time, when large-scale, top-down development projects were operating elsewhere (Peet and Hartwick 2009). The impetus to talk to farmers may have been that the scientists were starving, but the results led to an expanding field of knowledge connecting minority farmers and scientists.


Following the Cultural Revolution, XTBG fairly quickly re-established contact with scientists outside China, since the botanic garden was already recognised as a centre for biodiversity study. Following US President Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1976 and re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and China, the two countries signed Scientific Exchange Protocols (Suttmeier 1998; Wang 1999). As part of the ensuing exchanges, the Ministry of Urban Reconstruction and Economic Planning sent a scientist to the East-West Center in Hawaii. One outcome of this connection was that the ministry contacted the East-West Center as the American counterpart to organise the first conference on the environment in China. Bill Mathews, the Director of the East-West Environment and Policy Institute, delegated A. Terry Rambo, a human ecologist with many years of field experience in Southeast Asia, to organise the conference, which Rambo agreed to do as long as the conference focused on agroecosystems and was held in Yunnan. For the 1981 conference in Kunming, Rambo invited about 10 people with whom he had worked on agroecosystems in Southeast Asia. Pei Shengji attended the conference, and discovered that the agroecosystems approach was similar to the ethnobotany he and other XTBG scientists were doing in Xishuangbanna. When Pei heard Rambo's favourable remarks about shifting cultivation, he voiced his agreement, even though his opinions were not considered to be acceptable to the conference organisers and the ministry. In spite of the fact that international scientists and Chinese participants were not allowed to converse without a minder, Rambo and others managed to speak with Pei and invite him to join their collaborative research on agroecosystems. Through this pathway, Pei's epistemic community expanded to scholars in the USA and across Southeast Asia.


In 1982, Terry Rambo pulled together his informal group of colleagues into the Southeast Asian Universities Agroecosystems Network (SUAN) that came to include social and natural scientists from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yunnan, as well as American scholars. Rambo's research was devoted to agroecosystems, but he also knew that this local-level, human ecological approach would be acceptable to governments in Asia that did not want researchers to influence politics (Terry Rambo pers. comm. 1987). Pei Shengji from XTBG was the main Chinese participant in SUAN, which offered training and research funding for human ecology research in Southeast Asia, including Yunnan. Through this network Pei Shengji broadened his research by adding a human ecology approach to analysing interacting social and ecological systems (Rambo and Sajise 1984). The tool kit also included rapid rural appraisal, participatory rural appraisal, and participatory mapping, methods that Pei used and passed on to his Chinese students (Khon Kaen University 1987). Pei Shengji and several of his students also attended writing workshops at the East-West Center that allowed them to publish in English. Through Pei's published studies in English he gained an international reputation (e.g., Pei 1985, 1991).


In spite of Pei Shengji's growing connection with international scholars, XTBG itself remained closed to the outside world. Even in Kunming, international scholars were not allowed to visit KIB. In 1986 Nick Menzies met Pei Shengji in his hotel room in Kunming rather than at KIB. Xishuangbanna, which borders on Laos and Burma, was even more out of bounds and officially closed to foreigners. Nonetheless, Pei invited Menzies to a 1986 SUAN meeting in Jinghong, capital of Xishuangbanna. Without official permission, Menzies travelled overland from Kunming to Jinghong, passing several armed check points along the way. Menzies was not allowed to visit XTBG on that visit. XTBG is located in Menglun in a different county, and was still physically and intellectually isolated from the rest of the world.


In the early 1990s, Menzies, as Winrock International programme manager, began to develop the Yunnan Uplands Management (YUM) programme with Ford Foundation funding. The State Council of China, the equivalent of a national cabinet, had approached the Ford Foundation to ask for assistance in developing and testing new approaches to poverty alleviation. China's large-scale, top-down efforts seemed not to work well in western China. Also, China's drive to decentralise property rights and management through the allocation of commune land to the household meant that leaders in Beijing were open to experimenting with more localised approaches. Working with not-for-profit agencies offered a more flexible and politically less visible form of collaboration than was possible through international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme or the World Bank. Accordingly, Menzies introduced then internationally-circulating ideas about bottom-up participatory development. The programme drew together many universities, research institutes, and government line agencies in Kunming to participate in four YUM pilot sites selected for long-term research and experimentation to understand and monitor farmer-based development. Young researchers from KIB and the KIE, still closely linked to XTBG, were key recipients of YUM support. In working directly with XTBG, Menzies found common ground for discussion not only with Pei Shengji, who was connected with both XTBG and KIB, but also with Feng Yaozong, director of KIE, still based at XTBG. Menzies funded a conference headed by Feng to look at innovative multi-cropping systems as man-made ecosystems. Modest grants from Winrock and Ford for conferences such as this, as well as for exploratory work on indigenous knowledge and the use of participatory research methods, had considerable impact on a cohort of XTBG scholars at that time. Over the next 10 years or so, further financial and intellectual support for this work came from the MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and others with a similar concern for participatory science and development. The presence of scholars such as Feng Yaozong and Pei Shengji, unusual in their attention to farmers' knowledge, as well as XTBG's relative isolation from global scholarship, meant that limited funding gave a strong boost to innovative thinking and experimental studies. Among these ideas was 'indigenous knowledge', which became officially inscribed in XTBG and KIB publications, as well as across the landscape in Xishuangbanna (e.g., Pei 1985, 1991, 1996; Liu et al. 1990, 1992; Wang 1990). Ecological knowledge included farmers' understanding of how to manage and protect the environment.


By 1995, when Sturgeon arrived in Yunnan to begin dissertation research in Xishuangbanna, she found that the few XTBG researchers who had participated in YUM were aware of the sophistication of farmers' knowledge about ecosystems and regeneration patterns. Other young XTBG scholars, without the YUM connection, criticised shifting cultivators as forest destroyers and disparaged all minorities in Xishuangbanna as 'backward'. These unfavourable views on shifting cultivation and minorities were and still are common in China, but their prevalence among young XTBG researchers reflected their lack of connection with Pei Shengji and his students, including then director of XTBG, Liu Hongmao. Some of Pei's students from KIB had already documented the biodiversity conservation and ecological knowledge of upland shifting cultivators, such as Jinuo (Long et al. 1994) and Hani (Akha) (Xu et al. 1995). This disjuncture also illustrates the fragility of ecological governance based on farmers' participation, when the dominant social and scientific ideology discounts minority farmers as 'backward' and 'ignorant'. Two epistemic communities inhabited XTBG, one that saw minority farmers as part of ecosystems, and the other that saw minority farmers as destructive to ecosystems. One group was concerned with solving problems identified by those farmers, while the other group was devoted to documenting problems caused by farmers, and there is little evidence that the two groups communicated much.


Sturgeon also discovered that the institutional connection between KIB and XTBG was still in place, but that discussions were under way to separate them. Within XTBG itself, some scientists trained by YUM continued with human ecology research, while others carried out conventional ecological studies without including farmers. XTBG scientists who worried about environmental damage placed the blame on shifting cultivation rather than on the surrounding rubber plantations (Sturgeon Field notes 1995).


Most of the KIB and KIE researchers involved in YUM had returned to Kunming by the early 1990s. In 1995, Xu Jianchu, then Deputy Director of the Department of Ethnobotany at KIB, launched a domestic non-governmental organisation called the Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK). Although scholars continued to be affiliated with their home research institutes (state bodies), CBIK drew those who had worked in YUM into new interdisciplinary projects to document minority farmers' indigenous knowledge. The influence of YUM continued, but predominantly in Kunming rather than at XTBG.


The epistemic community of rubber 


This section covers the state rubber farms in Xishuangbanna as well as the later extension of rubber to minority farmers to plant on their own lands. The rubber story later intersects with XTBG in the late 2000s, as institutional arrangements and purviews of influence heightened XTBG's role in the renewed debates about the value of rubber versus the value of biodiversity to the prefecture economy.


State rubber farms were established in Xishuangbanna in the late 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1950s the USA imposed a trade embargo on the People's Republic of China. Leaders in Beijing decided that China needed to be self-sufficient in certain strategic products, including natural rubber needed for the Korean War and for industrial development (Xu 2006). Under the Rural Reclamation Bureau in Beijing, state rubber farms were set up in Hainan and Xishuangbanna, the tropical sites best suited to rubber. The Xishuangbanna state rubber farms were military institutions divided into barracks under army officers. They reported directly to the Rural Reclamation Bureau in Kunming and Beijing, and were administratively separate from the prefecture government of Xishuangbanna (Sturgeon Field notes 2006). Accordingly, rubber experimentation and management developed its own epistemic community-a world view, interlinked institutions, and a set of practices-unrelated to minority farmers or the XTBG studies on biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Workers on state farms were Han peasants from elsewhere, since local minorities were thought to be too backward for the factory-like work needed to produce rubber (Sturgeon and Menzies 2006).


From 1969 to 1978, educated youth were sent down from cities to Xishuangbanna to work in rubber. Mao Zedong sent middle school and high school educated youth (zhiqing) to the countryside to learn from the peasants and inculcate them with revolutionary fervour (Sturgeon and Menzies 2006). In Xishuangbanna, educated youth (all Han) lived on state rubber farms and joined the arduous task of cutting tropical rainforest, terracing hillsides, and planting rubber seedlings. In 1978, however, the educated youth nationwide were all sent home.


With the loss of educated youth, the state rubber farms suffered from a severe labour shortage. At a meeting in Jinghong in 1979, the head of Rural Reclamation Bureau announced that for the first time state farms were allowed to recruit local minorities to work on state farms. Most state farms objected, saying that local minorities were 'backward', 'couldn't work hard' and were 'ignorant'. Only two state farms, Meng Peng and Meng Xing, decided to invite local minorities to join them, in part because Meng Peng and Meng Xing state farms were surrounded by minority villages (Sturgeon Field notes, Meng Xing State Farm 2006). In order to expand in size, they needed to include both the land and labour of neighbouring communities. Many Akha villages joined the state farms, with Akha men becoming state farm workers. As retired Han state farm workers reported to us in 2006, the Akha workers had to be 'brought along', to learn Han culture and state farm discipline. Once enclosed within the epistemic community of the state farms, these Akha gradually became 'just like the Han' in work ethic and values (see Sturgeon 2013 for a discussion of 'just like the Han' in relation to 'modernity').


In the early 1980s, agricultural communes were dismantled and commune lands and forests allocated to households and villages under the household responsibility system. A short time later, the prefecture government, against the wishes of the state rubber farms, insisted that rubber be extended to minority farmers to help with the state goal of raising farmers' incomes. At a national level, China's demand for natural rubber also kept increasing, as new industries were set up in urban areas and across rural China. This demand also pushed state farms to relinquish their exclusive hold on rubber cultivation. From 1985 to 1987, the first state rubber campaign encouraged farmers to plant rubber on sloping lands, offering free seedlings, training, and even labour to help them do so. Many households planted their first rubber at this time, although some households were reluctant to plant a crop they could not eat. In 1992, when households first began to tap and sell the latex, other households realised the benefit of a reliable income from rubber from March to November each year, during the rubber-tapping season (Sturgeon Field notes 2005, 2006). Additionally, in 1995, another prefecture campaign for poverty alleviation and economic development exhorted farmers to plant rubber on any remaining sloping lands. By about 2000, farmers had planted so much rubber that their total planted area exceeded the rubber area on state rubber farms (Sturgeon Field notes 2006). In 2003, yet another prefecture poverty alleviation campaign encouraged farmers to plant tea in the uplands and rubber in the lowlands. This campaign joined the larger Go West Campaign (xibudakaifa), under which an ecological construction component gave subsidies to farmers for planting trees. Many Xishuangbanna farmers got subsidies for five years for planting more rubber, this time replacing any remaining household, village, and watershed forests with monoculture rubber (Sturgeon 2010). Since rubber is classified as 'forest cover' in China, the prefecture government was not yet seriously alarmed. The prefecture's primary mission was economic development, in concert with the prevalent Chinese ideology. Any concern about biodiversity loss or environmental troubles was drowned out by prefecture leaders pointing to the benefits of rubber as the backbone of the Xishuangbanna economy. The ideology of economic growth was inscribed in state policy and across the Xishuangbanna landscape in waves of rubber plantations.


As for state rubber farms, our interviews in five of the 10 state rubber farms in 2005-2006 revealed that state farm administrators uniformly denigrated the knowledge and skill of minority farmers in managing rubber. 'Their cultural quality is too low'; 'they are too impatient and cut trees too early'; 'they need the state and the Party to come help them'; 'they are backward and unscientific in handling rubber'. According to these state farm leaders, their own rubber production was the best in the world, since they produced more and better latex than farmers did, even if farmers by then had more area in rubber. They believed that state farm cultivation that was modern, scientific, efficient, and disciplined set a standard that farmers could never match. In general, in China there continues to be a belief that science is the guide to modern development. In other words, rubber cultivation required modern science, and had nothing to do with 'indigenous knowledge'. For them, the epistemic community and knowledge production about rubber was located exclusively on state rubber farms. The opinions and attitudes of state farm administrators exemplify the tendency, in China as elsewhere, toward the rule of experts.


The changing epistemic community: researchers at XTBG 


Returning now to XTBG, we trace changes from the 1990s to 2010. The formal links between XTBG and KIB were severed in 1997. Liu Hongmao, a former student of Pei Shengji and Xu Zaifu, became the XTBG director when Xu Zaifu retired. When Liu died of cancer (in his mid-40s) shortly thereafter, Chen Jin, an ecologist was appointed as director. This appointment marked a turn away from ethnobotany and indigenous knowledge, and toward an emphasis on mainstream ecological studies at XTBG. As of 2005, Pei Shengji had retired, but still had an office at KIB. Xu Zaifu, retired at XTBG, was still knowledgeable and perceptive about past and current developments, but no longer had the intellectual influence he once enjoyed. Other scholars who studied with Pei or Xu had almost all migrated to Kunming where the epistemic community involved in KIB's Ethnobotany Department and CBIK (sometimes hard to tell apart) was more welcoming than the science-based focus of XTBG.


In 2002, the central government announced that scientific development was part of economic development (Jin and Rousseau 2005). Chinese science should be world class, and to reach that goal, scientists at all state research institutes would have to publish more articles, especially in top-rated journals in English. The government established a point system for journals, with a journal like Nature rating 20 points, whereas an ethnobotany journal rates only three points (Pei Shengji pers. comm. 2012). Additionally, scholars get sizeable bonuses for each article published (Xu Jianchu pers. comm. 2011). KIB scholars say they are pressured to publish and can no longer spend as much time on CBIK projects, since project work will not necessarily produce publishable data (Sturgeon Field notes 2010). At XTBG, the emphasis on publication encouraged Chen Jin, XTBG director, to 'internationalise' the botanic garden by recruiting university professors from Europe and North America to join the staff. Chen acknowledges that XTBG cannot match Western salaries, but the opportunity to live close to tropical research sites in environs where there is inexpensive food and lodging has attracted five or six well-established scholars to spend several years there. None of these scholars speaks Chinese. Chen Jin and the deputy director were quite open in explaining the recruitment as a means to help Chinese scholars publish in top journals in English. The international scholars have obliged, and one reported to Sturgeon in 2010 that the quality of XTBG research and publication in ecology journals was very high (Anthony Ives pers. comm. 2010). XTBG researchers now focus on ecology rather than the human ecology and managed ecosystems of previous decades. Although high in quality, the research is much more conventional than that of Pei Shengji, Xu Zaifu, Liu Hongmao, and Feng Yaozong in the 1970s and 1980s.


With a strong cohort of international scholars and Chinese scientists fluent in English, XTBG has also been able to secure major research grants not only from the Chinese government, but also from European, Canadian, and American donor agencies (XTBG website). XTBG has become a well-known international centre for tropical research, drawing many short-term visitors as well as longer-term researchers. Peter Crane, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is on the XTBG advisory board (XTBG website). The reputation and visibility of XTBG contrast sharply with the remote, inaccessible botanic garden that Menzies was unable to visit in 1986.


In an extended interview (2010), XTBG Director Chen Jin explained that during the 2000s, the focus on research and publication had pulled XTBG away from contributing scientific knowledge to local government. Chen hoped to remedy that lack through XTBG's current plan, approved by the prefecture government in 2010, to design and implement ecological restoration on farmers' lands. Chen acknowledged the economic importance of rubber to state rubber farms, the Xishuangbanna prefecture, and to farming households. As a result, he would not advocate eliminating rubber from Xishuangbanna. Instead, the XTBG restoration plan calls for 'environmentally friendly rubber plantations'.


In a presentation to the prefecture government, Chen outlined environmental problems and solutions. The five issues with rubber include: 1) rubber occupies the tropical lowlands once carpeted with diverse tropical forest; 2) rubber plantations across the prefecture are now like an ocean, fragmenting any remaining natural forest stands; 3) natural forests are needed to maintain rainfall and streams; 4) Xishuangbanna is a marginal tropical area with a cold, dry season in the winter. The natural forest provides fog in the dry season that sustains rubber by keeping the area humid. When rubber loses its leaves, more solar radiation reaches the ground and the heat decreases the number of foggy days, an outcome that will change the natural forest over time; 5) large-scale plantations bring pests and diseases, and the pesticides needed to avoid these problems lead to secondary pollution. Chen's plan calls for five steps to address these problems: 1) supplementing the Asian Development Bank's Mekong Corridor Initiative, which supports planting biodiversity corridors between forested areas across Xishuangbanna and into adjoining parts of Laos. This step also calls for the enlargement of the tropical forest below 800 m to address the issue of fragmentation; 2) introducing environmentally-friendly rubber plantation through 'giving shoes' to rubber trees by planting commercially useful crops in the understory of trees; 3) turning 20 per cent of rubber plantations into forest by planting on the top of mountains, along watershed streambeds, and along roadways; 4) focusing in future on agroforestry systems that include cash crops on the ground to provide income for farmers; and 5) conducting scientific experiments to increase stream flows and the number of foggy days, prevent diseases, and protect biodiversity (Chen Jin pers. comm. 2010).


This plan fits well within international formulas for restoring degraded landscapes as well as acknowledging rubber's importance to prefecture and minority household incomes. At first blush the plan seems very sensible within the framework of restoration ecology, but the plan has three serious drawbacks. First, it ignores the extensive rubber plantations on state farms. Second, it overlooks the fact that restoring farmers' rubber fields to forest would undermine farmers' right to decide how to use the land legally contracted to them by the government. And third, farmers have not been included in planning that would draw on their ecological knowledge.


During Sturgeon's extended visits to XTBG in 2006 and 2010, as well as the research stints of two of Sturgeon's master's students, Gaetan Reuse and Noah Schillo, none of us heard any reference to the need to consult with farmers about the ecological restoration plans. One XTBG PhD student, Yi Zhuangfang, is a local Dai from a rubber-producing family. She is widely acclaimed at XTBG as their most promising PhD student, and is developing a sophisticated economic formula for how much farmers should be reimbursed for loss of rubber, depending not just on number of trees, but also on the soils, slope, aspect, age, and productivity of their rubber plots. Her research is not botanical, but her complex use of numbers qualifies her study as 'scientific'. Her work comes closest to consulting with farmers of any XTBG scientist, and indeed she interviewed farmers in Dai when accompanying Sturgeon on her village research. She currently works for Xu Jianchu at the World Agroforestry Center in Kunming, where scholars are encouraged to interview farmers.


The experience of Gaetan Reuse and Noah Schillo, however, reveals the lack of XTBG interest in social science research and discovering how farmers would respond to restoration plans. Gaetan Reuse lived at XTBG in the summer of 2009 and made forays each day out to surrounding villages. Inspired by Pei Shengji's work, Reuse was looking at the extent to which farmers had planted rubber on Dai holy hills, once thought to be inhabited by spirits who protect particular towns and villages. A few XTBG scientists showed interest in Reuse's topic, but as a means to persuade farmers to protect holy hills, since as protected sites, they hold great biodiversity. Most XTBG scholars, however, showed no interest in Reuse's findings, unsurprising in a 'scientific' institution. In 2010, Noah Schillo spent the summer based at XTBG and interviewed farmers of differing age and gender about their willingness to participate in ecological restoration on their rubber fields. Since his topic was close to XTBG interests, we might expect scientists there to be curious about his findings. When Schillo presented his results at a seminar, as he was encouraged to do, XTBG scholars scoffed at social-science research and expressed little interest in what farmers thought. Schillo's results were not seen as 'scientific' as they were based on interviews and contained few numbers.


Schillo discovered a range of responses from farmers. Younger farmers, who had grown up with rubber, were not interested in ecological restoration. As Reuse had found a year earlier, Dai culture now centres around rubber, its daily and seasonal rhythms, and the wealth it provides (Reuse 2010; Schillo 2012). These younger Dai were not amenable to any drop in income. Some older farmers were more interested in ecological restoration on hilltops, since they realised that loss of natural forests had reduced water available for lowland vegetable fields. Other older farmers, male and female, expressed interest in the notion of ecological restoration that would make certain kinds of plants, herbs, and animals available to them, as they had been in the past. At the same time, older farmers were attached to their rubber fields, which they planned to give to their children to ensure incomes for future generations. They were wary of XTBG plans, however, since their experience with state compensation for loss of land and other natural resources was that the compensation was either way too low, or failed to appear. The China literature is replete with case studies of local state officials either failing to reimburse farmers for land, or giving a pittance for lands that farmers were forced to sell (e.g., Bennet 2008; Guo 2001; Lum 2006). Xishuangbanna rubber farmers are not alone in their unfortunate experience with state 'promises' for compensation.


XTBG scientists, meanwhile, examine the result of soil compaction under rubber trees, the response of rubber leaves to sunlight, and the relationship of rubber to the reduction of annual foggy days (Sturgeon Field notes 2010). Rubber needs year-round humidity to be most productive, but extensive monoculture rubber may be leading to a warmer, drier regional climate. In this regard, XTBG, like many other research institutes throughout the world, has recently garnered significant international funding for climate change research. The attention is new, since the 2009 Fiftieth Anniversary Report for XTBG listed only one research project on climate change. Since then, the interest in climate change has proliferated. As elsewhere, the threat of climate change adds a certain urgency to scientists' belief that ecological restoration needs to begin with all due speed. This research on rubber, and the climate change funding, is no doubt valuable, but ensures that the epistemic community for scientific knowledge about and management of rubber remains within XTBG, the state rubber farms, and the Rural Reclamation Bureau that oversees these institutions. This interlinked set of institutions forms an epistemic community based on its own knowledge and expertise, and does not draw on farmers' experience with rubber, which now extends over 20 years. Farmers' knowledge about rubber may not seem like 'indigenous' knowledge, but as Schillo discovered, farmers still remember where streams used to be, and where water sources have dried up following rubber plantation. Older farmers remember what kinds of trees used to grow where, and Dai and Akha farmers know how to regenerate a forest on cleared land from their experience with shifting cultivation. The knowledge of farmers, especially older men and women, would seem critical to 'restoring' a landscape to natural forest. As Reuse and Schillo found, however, XTBG scientists are not interested in farmers, or even aware that minority farmers might have knowledge that would help them in their restoration goals.




 Conclusion   Top


This paper responds to the question of why farmers have been left out of discussions about ecological restoration on their rubber fields. Twenty to thirty years ago, those XTBG researchers whose mission was to document the biodiversity in the tropical prefecture lived in a closed political environment without international connections. During the Cultural Revolution, the XTBG epistemic community extended to surrounding ethnic minority farmers who taught them to survive and to identify the abundance of plants and trees in Xishuangbanna. Listing species led these same scholars to discover various ethnic groups' farming systems, the practices that led to protection and even enhancement of biodiversity. As we have shown, XTBG was then an isolated research station staffed by an extraordinary cohort of botanists and ecologists who showed interest in the practices and systems of the minority farmers around them. Possibly their very isolation prevented them from adopting the international scientific assessment that knowledge is produced by scientists, not farmers, and that learning from minority farmers is misguided. Their research drew on farmers' knowledge but it had little impact on farmers' decision-making and land use practices, except in ways that farmers might have found helpful. The state rubber farms and the Rural Reclamation Bureau were the arms of government that operated separately from farmers' lives or prefecture administration, unconcerned with farmers' knowledge and land management. Now, with XTBG a part of international networks and a player in international discourse related to climate change, XTBG has become the agency that is engaged in land use planning that will affect farmers' decision-making and control over their land. XTGB scientists are the 'experts' equipped to decide on farmers' land use without including them in the discussion.


Through a complex combination of changes in institutional affiliation, loss or retirement of key figures, changes in the Chinese government's expectation about scientists' publication rates, and the 'internationalisation' of XTBG, the focus on human ecology and farmers' knowledge has long gone from XTBG. The combination of institutions, actors, landscapes, international connections, and epistemic communities has gradually been reconfigured and transformed. Scholars at KIB and CBIK in Kunming continue to work on indigenous knowledge among minority peoples, but XTBG has taken a different path, becoming instead an internationally-recognised centre for research on biodiversity. That research now relies on mainstream methods in botany and ecology, methods that require scientific expertise and quantitative rigour. This 'expert' point of view is reinforced by burgeoning publications in major journals, government plaudits and bonuses, and large grants for research on climate change from international donors. XTBG scientists have joined a larger epistemic community of ecologists and conservation biologists, many of whom are sceptical of social science research or farmers' opinions. From a social science perspective, this step represents going backward rather than forward, but helps explain how farmers are left out of ecological governance in a prefecture where they once taught researchers about the surrounding ecosystems. Our analysis also traces pathways through which ecological knowledge including farmers may be generated and how that kind of ecological knowledge may later be lost.




  Acknowledgements   Top


This article draws on research funded by the Ford Foundation, the US National Science Foundation (Grant No. HDS043043, Understanding Dynamic Resource Management Systems and Land Cover Transitions in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia), the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China (Sturgeon's dissertation funding for research in Xishuangbanna), and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Governing Rubber and Minorities in Southwest China).



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Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan 666303, China
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