Addicted to Rubber

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 564-566
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_564

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Long infamous for heroin, opium, and other poppy products, the Golden Triangle, the mountainous, thickly forested intersection of Laos, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and China, is now becoming known for another plant: Hevea brasiliensis, the Pará rubber tree. Rubber in the Golden Triangle has been a classic standoff between economics and ecology: Monocultural plantations are so much more profitable than any other lawful agricultural system in these hills that they have inevitably prevailed, no matter the environmental cost. But at least some smallholders have found out how to both make a living and restore forests to a healthier state. Surprisingly, their way forward is a return to one of the region's most ancient products: tea. Not only that, they are growing tea in a way that until recently was derided as backward and inefficient—in the forest, under the canopy of larger trees.