In Nyot Ou, the northernmost district of the province of Phongsaly, Yao smallholder farmers produce Sheng Pu-er tea from leaves harvested in communal forests and natural (“shengtai”) gardens. Renowned for its terroir in close proximity to the famous tea region of Yiwu, Nyot Ou attracts buyers and traders from all over Yunnan province and beyond. Thanks to a prolonged boom of Pu-er on Chinese markets and increasing demand in the West, prices at farmer-gate have been multiplied per ten over the last decade. Today, many tea farmers have decent incomes. The prices they can obtain for their tea depends to a large extent on their processing skills and on their connections to the market. Most farmers are familiar with the basic processing steps – withering, panning or “kill-green” (“shaqing”), rolling and sundrying – however, many of them still lack background knowledge and manual skill. The variability of many factors can be underestimated: How to adapt the withering step to the leaf characteristics and weather? How to manage the water content in the tea leaf and panning duration? What is the ideal wok temperature to start the process, and why? On the other hand, farmers often still have little knowledge about the market and value chains of their product. The majority of people do not know the final prices of tea in retail markets or the current expectations and requirements of the buyers and consumers, and how to meet them. Also, due to increasing demand and price for tea from ancient trees growing in the local forests, there is an acute risk of overharvesting and damaging the trees and their surroundings. In Yunnan, overexploitation has led to degradation of the forests and tea trees in the past, and today, harvesting of old tea trees is strictly regulated. Raising awareness for these issues in the region is crucial for protecting the forests and the tea resources.
In response, CCL, in collaboration with farmer-leaf and Kinnari Tea, has organized a week-long series of workshops with tea producers for strengthening their techniques and knowledge, as well as providing them a unique occasion to learn and exchange about Pu-er tea production. In total, more than 70 producers from seven different upland villages of Nyot Ou district have participated in the trainings.