Project Profile for the Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Co-op, FLO ID: 5061
The Mannong Manmai Ancient Organic Tea Co-op was initially founded in October of 2004 to meet the requirements of USDA, EU and JAS organic certification programs. In 2006, the project became Fair Trade Certified™ by FLO International. The co-op comprises three villages: Mannong Old Village, Mannong New Village and Manmai Village. Making their homes in the co-op are 244 families totaling around 1,200 people.
Geography & Environment
Mannong and Manmai are located in subtropical Xishuangbanna, in the southern tip of China’s Yunnan Province. Orienting further within Xishuangbanna, the “natural villages” of Old Mannong and Manmai are part of the Hekai Official Village of Menghun Town, in southeastern Menghai County. Hekai Tea Mountain belongs to the northern section of the famous Nannuo mountain chain, which is considered by some scholars of Pu-erh tea trade history to be one of the “Six Famous Ancient Tea Mountains.” The main ethnic groups living in this area are Lahu and Hani. This is one of the oldest tea cultivation zones in the world that still produces “commercial tea.” The villages and surrounding forests contain some of highest population densities of ancient tea.
The ancient tea gardens are primarily distributed along mountains and hills ranging from 1,500 – 1,800m above sea level. Groves of tea trees span the villages and spread into the surrounding forests. Manmai Village yields the majority of the fresh leaf, while Mannong Old Village yields are less and Mannong New Village contributes less than 10% of the total yield from the co-op.
Mountains cover more than 90% of the co-op’s land area. The climate in Mannong and Manmai Villages is southern subtropical and monsoonal, with an abundance of rainfall. The annual average temperature is 64.6°F, with a relative humidity of 82%. This mild, warm and moist climate provides superior natural conditions for growing tea trees, resulting in dense and rich tree growth and strong flushing.
Mannong Manmai is a truly natural environment with an excellent tree canopy cover and a biologically diverse environment that is blessed with rich soil and an ecologically pristine tea garden landscape. This area was established by ancient tea planters more than 1,500 years ago. The local Lahu understanding is that the tea groves already existed when the Lahu settled in this area.
Ancient Heirloom Tea:
Most of the tea trees are the Menghai “Da Ye” antique cultivar and other antique Da Yeh varieties. The average height of the tea trees ranges from 10 – 23 feet (3 – 7m). Today, nearly 1,650 acres of ancient tea gardens exist in the Mannong and Manmai tea growing area.
This area has no clonal or newly cultivated, terraced tea gardens even within reasonable motor scooter distance. That was one a key factor in our decision to source tea here. This area only contains ancient tea tree resources, making it impossible for the processors to blend in cheaper, mono-crop tealeaves. A reality of the current tea market in Yunnan is that many ancient tea mountains that have some ancient tea trees also contain newly cultivated mono-crop plantations. Often, this inferior terraced tea is blended with ancient tea, then still labeled and sold as “ancient tea.” All of the gardens in Mannong and Manmai are ancient tea tree groves, and there is no terraced plantation tea to be found.
The local tea variety is quite special because it was planted 1,500 years ago and has evolved in the same soil and mountain for such a long time. It has spread through open pollination and natural seed dissemination, so it is truly of an ancient genetic origin and represents a locally specific flavor. The key to ancient tea is not that each kilogram of tea we sell is harvested solely from thousand year-old trees, but rather that it all derives from an heirloom variety. That is, it comes from antique seed stock that has evolved within this area since ancient times. In the ancient tea forest, you’ll find tea trees ranging from fifty years old to one thousand years old, even tiny saplings sprouting from the seeds dropped by the elder trees. The signature taste of this origin is in the ancient seed stock and local flavor that flows through all the trees in this ancient tea garden.
The Impact of Fair Trade:
Although Mannong and Manmai Villages are rich in ancient tea culture and traditions, the area is very underdeveloped and poor. Fair Trade (FLO) Certification has greatly benefited the tea co-op members and their community. For every pound of ancient tea imported from Mannong Manmai we have sent “Fair Trade Social Premium Funds” back to the co-op.
The co-op representatives are elected by villagers and represent the interests of all 1,200 co-op individual members. The co-op representatives vote how to spend the “FLO Social Premium Funds” to benefit the three villages. The money has been used for clean water access, education and schooling, health care for all villagers, sanitation system, road, communication and infrastructure development, temples, cultural activities, community centers, organic management and technology, quality improvement training programs for co-op members, a co-op owned organic tea factory and multiple other community based programs.
Through 2011, Rishi Tea’s Yunnan tea imports and Fair Trade market has contributed 75% of the global total FLO premiums that have been sent to Mannong Manmai since this project’s establishment in 2006, totaling approximately $155,000 USD.
Map of Mannong Manmai in Yunnan Province
Village Life in the Remote Mannong & Manmai Tea Villages
The Lahu and Hani people here construct their homes in the Dai fashion, elevated on stilts to stay dry during the heavy monsoon season. Animals live on the lower level while people live, sleep, and cook on the second level, and some homes have a third level where corn or other goods can be stored.
Life in these remote, rural villages is hard, but the funds generated by the Fair Trade Co-op are helping to alleviate poverty in many ways. The elected Co-op committee set aside a pool of funds to support the education of village children. The funds pay for the children to attend primary school in nearby Hekai, and sponsor the costs of tuition, room and board, uniforms, and school materials. The access to a complete education provides a more enriching life for current and future generations.
One of the first priorities of the Co-op was to improve local roads. Fair Trade funds were used here to widen and grade a road linking many village homes that are spread several kilometers apart. This road, though simple, enables the locals to travel more easily between the villages and reach regional markets with tea and other goods.
With the small amounts of income created by the rising demand for pu-erh tea, many locals choose to invest in affordable motor scooters to travel around the rugged terrain. Many families now own a motor scooter.
With so many families purchasing motor bikes, newer and safer roads are a must. Long-term improvements like better roads will empower future generations with greater opportunities for education and employment.
An Old Village Road
Seen here is a typical village road prior to the construction of new roads with Fair Trade funds. In the rainy monsoon season, these paths are very muddy, making them unsafe and impassable for motor scooters. The need for improved roads was critical in Mannong and Manmai.
Limited by Impassable Roads
In the past, the tea farmers were unable to participate in local or regional markets because they had no way of safely transporting their tea. Rishi Tea staff walked and trekked to the villages of Mannong and Manmai for some of the first visits.
New & Old Roads
On the left is a new village road that was widened, graded, and laid with basic concrete. These roads are much safer to travel on than the old rutted dirt roads, like the dirt path leading up to the home on the right.
Development of Local Infrastructure
Here, one of the main roads in Mannong Old Village has been graded and paved with concrete, and sturdy village walls were constructed to help keep the roads clear and safe.
Easier Transport of Tea & Local Goods
Newly graded and hardened roads make it possible for farmers to bring more of their teas and other local goods to market.
Greater Access to Ancient Tea Gardens
The wide, graded roads provide easier access to the nearly 1,650 acres of ancient tea gardens surrounding Mannong and Manmai villages. The trail off to the right leads to an ancient tea grove.
Third-world Water Supply
Another critical priority for the Fair Trade Co-op was to find a supply of clean and safe water for the villages. Over 200 families make up the villages of Mannong and Manmail. Until Fair Trade funds were available to develop a new water supply, all of the village families collected their water from this muddy creek bed. Water for bathing, cooking, drinking, and even for animals was all collected from this dirty creek.
A Safe, Clean Water System
This new water system was built at Mannong Old Village using Fair Trade funds. This is just of one of several fresh water systems built around the Mannong Manmai villages. The system collects spring water from about 20 kilometers away and then channels safe drinking water throughout the communities.
Mannong New Village Water System
Seen here is anther clean spring water system constructed to serve Mannong New Village using Fair Trade funds.
Manmai Village Water System
Another simple yet effective clean water system serving the village of Manmai.
Spring Water Pipe
Spring water is piped from the main tanks throughout the villages.
Safe, Clean Water
The water channels stretch for many kilometers, providing clean and safe water for every family in the Mannong Manmai villages. Small roads like the one here are still rutted and require development. There is still much room for futher positive Fair Trade impacts in Mannong and Manmai.
An Old Public Toilet
Another important project for the communities at Mannong and Manmai was to replace the old public toilets like this decrepit, unsanitary one.
New Public Toilets
Seen here is an example of a newly constructed public toilet. Vastly cleaner than the old public toilet, this project was supported by Fair Trade funds.
Basketball is a very popular sport in China today, especially among the youth. Community development programs were very important to the Fair Trade Co-op. This is one of the two basketball courts created at Mannong and Manmai.
Old Town Square
Seen here is the main village square at the Mannong Old Village before community development improvements were made using Fair Trade funds. The community buildings were in severe disrepair and the town square was basically an empty plot of land.
Improved Town Square
With the help of Fair Trade funds, the Mannong village community center was significantly improved. The community buildings were renovated with new materials and a basketball court was constructed. Now, the town square is a gathering place for the entire community.
Path to the New Temple
On the hill above the new community center at the Mannong Old Village, a newly paved path leads up to a renovated temple. All of these projects were supported with Fair Trade funds.
New Religious Temple
At the top of the hill above the main community center at Mannong Old Village stands this renovated temple. The Lahu and Hani people of Mannong and Manmai practice a local Buddhist-Animist religion.
Seen here is the old religious temple above Mannong Old Village before the renovations were made with Fair Trade funds. The dilapidated temple was made with crude plank walls, and it was difficult to gather here to worship when the weather was poor.
“Visit to the Old Temple
Some visitors from Rishi Tea staff to the Mannong religious temple prior to renovation. The old plank fence and grounds have been made more sturdy with brick.
Inside the Old Temple
Inside the leaky, drafty religious temple prior to its renovation. The villagers agreed through town hall style meetings that a newer, updated temple was a major goal for the community.
Improved Temple & Walls
A view of the renovated temple at Mannong Old Village. The Co-op decided that it was important to first renovate the temple to make it functional for the community to preserve their local religious customs. They have future plans to use funds to create another temple that will be designed to reflect local art and aesthetics.
Two local “spirit houses” just outside the walls that enclose the religious temple above the Mannong Old Village. Spirit houses are common throughout Southeast Asia, and serve to protect homes and important sites against evil spirits and energies.
Construction of a New Temple in Manmai
In addition to the religious temple renovation at Mannong Old Village, the locals agreed to create a new temple at nearby Manmai. Another example of how Fair Trade tea projects can support community development and also protect local customs and traditions.
Co-op Meeting & Conference Center
A central meeting and conference center for the Co-op was built using Fair Trade funds. The meeting room has a PA system wired throughout the village to spread weekly reports and other updates quickly. The Fair Trade Co-op elected leaders gather here to make decisions, and can communicate the discussion easily to the rest of the village so that everyone is involved.
New Tea Processing & Training Center
Fair Trade funds were also used to set up a new tea processing and training center. Here, local tea farmers can gather to study many techniques of tea processing that they can use to produce their own special, micro-batch teas that they can sell in local markets. The hot wood fires feeding the woks are contained in the back room, so local tea farmers can process their tea safely without clouds of smoke causing harm to their health. Many families who used to produce small batches of tea in their own kitchens can now come here to make their special local tea.
Fair Trade Connection
Fair Trade links the tea cultures and communities of Mannong and Manmai with the tea in your cup, providing a traceability chain straight from Rishi Tea to the origin.