Rubber plantations became a considerable element of Mainland South East Asia, often dominating whole landscapes. The expansion of rubber plantations took place on behalf of diverse, traditional land-use systems and near-natural or old growth forests, especially mountainous and formerly remote areas, which became accessible due to infrastructure development. This land-use transformation inevitably affects Ecosystem Functions and Services, one of it being the provisioning of water in general and drinking water in particular.
In the framework of the interdisciplinary SURUMER-project we studied the socioeconomic framework conditions as well as the consequences of the rubber management practices in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province, SW China 1 concerning: a/farmers’ perception of the importance of ecosystem services, b/ the use of agro-chemicals and farmers’ awareness of its potential negative consequences, c/ the impact of the weeding scheme on erosion, d/ farmers’ micro-economic situation. The respective disciplinary methodologies have been applied.
It turned out that ‘water’ is by far the most important ESS to farmers, reflecting their experience of degrading water sources accompanying rubber expansion. At the same time the use of agro-chemicals and pesticides is ubiquitous, showing the low awareness concerning the potential impacts on water quality and health, respectively.
Based on an integrative analysis of the different aspects we suggest alternative management concepts on plot but also landscape level. These comprise a shift from chemical to mechanical weeding. Since the traditional manual brushing is labor intensive, the alternative option of using brush cutters is currently assessed. Additionally, labor extensive permanent intercropping schemes with economically but also ecologically valuable tree species are suggested to improve soil stability in the rubber-inter rows but also to reduce weeding requirements.
Since water provisioning can hardly be safeguarded on a plot level but needs the consideration of the respective watershed, water protection zones have been suggested, where rubber management needs to be strongly restricted or abandoned. The idea received considerable attention from farmers but also illustrated the complexity of the topic. Thus, the beneficial farmer communities are not necessarily the respective land owners, making agreements challenging.