Laos' northernmost province of Phongsaly appears to be exchanging the trees and shrubs on its hilltops for coffee and tea plantations.
Chinese companies were already growing thousands of tea bushes on the fertile slopes but now they are also planting coffee trees at higher altitudes where it is cooler.
Director of the Phongsaly provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department, Mr Santi Keoyasan, told Vientiane Times on Tuesday that 2,500 hectares of coffee trees are now being cultivated in the mountainous province.
Provincial authorities are hoping Chinese growers will plant the crop on 12,000 hectares in total.
“But we won't fell large primary forest tree species on the mountains, only shrubs, because the coffee trees will grow under the trees,” Mr Santi said.
Commercial crops such as coffee and tea are well suited to this area because most of the land is hilly. Popular coffee varieties are normally grown in cooler climates and if grown in hotter areas the resulting crop is of poor quality.
The promotion of industrial crops is a priority of the government as it seeks to build a long term socio-economic development programme.
Phongsaly's coffee plantations should not affect soil or rivers because the provincial agricultural authorities have provided growers with land that is a long way from watershed areas.
But an official from another provincial department, who asked not to be named, said water in nearby rivers was receding. She suggested this might be because indigenous tree species had been felled to make way for coffee trees, or because of changing weather patterns.
One of the problems with water supply in Phongsaly province is that it has not yet been possible to collect water from pipes at night to store for use during the day. The provincial capital is located in mountainous terrain and does not have as many water sources as flatland areas.
The importance of a regular water supply is increasing as Laos becomes more regionally connected through better road networks, tourism and regional trade.
Several years ago, some villages in Phongsaly relocated to areas with more water because their natural springs had dried up owing to deforestation after local villagers attempted to encroach into forest areas to grow upland rice crops, but this has now been stopped.