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Across China: Highland barley turns cash cow for Tibetan farmers

2020-11-30 11:08:00Xinhua

Once reeling under poverty with barely enough harvest to make ends meet, Tenzin is now able to sell his crops at a high price without even leaving his home.

The 76-year-old farmer from Longsang Village in the city of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, has been able to change his fortune through highland barley cultivation, which is perhaps the only crop growing in the plateau region with an altitude of more than 4,000 meters.

Previously, Tenzin and his family, who live in the mountainous Longsang Village, cultivated the soil all by themselves. And adding to their struggles, precipitation was the only source of irrigation for the crop, resulting in meager yields.

After the harvest, Tenzin would keep some for himself and hire a car to transport the rest to nearby counties for sale.

"Sometimes we even had to take it to the pastoral areas as barter for commodities such as sheepskin and ghee. It was difficult to exchange it for cash," he said.

Tenzin's life began to change in 2016 when the local government launched a relocation project. The same year, Tenzin and his 10 family members moved to a relocation site in Longsang Village, about four kilometers from his former house.

Authorities in Tibet have made great efforts in relocating impoverished people living in harsh natural conditions to areas with relatively rich production capacity and better infrastructure.

So far, 965 relocation sites have been constructed in Tibet, with 266,000 people moving into new houses, according to Wu Yingjie, secretary of Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China.

"The local government even allowed us to choose the house we like, so we picked the biggest one," Tenzin, who now lives in a two-story house, said with a smile. He added that they also received a resettlement allowance of 130,000 yuan (about 19,812 U.S. dollars) from the government.

Over the years, his land has gradually become arable. After the relocation, both mechanized farming and wells that the local government helped them set up greatly enhanced the highland barley cultivation efficiency and increased yield.

Meanwhile, a highland barley processing company named Tibet Deqin Sunshine Manor Co., Ltd. was also established in Jiangdang Township, which administers Longsang Village.

After preliminary market research, the company found that most local enterprises are engaged in highland barley food processing on a small scale, and their sales are mostly limited to the local market. The unique health benefits of highland barley, however, hold immense market potential.

Therefore, the company decided to start producing value-added products such as noodles, biscuits and nutrition powder using highland barley.

In order to accelerate the development of the highland barley industry, the local government of Sangzhuzi District, which administers Jiangdang Township, allotted 30 million yuan in poverty alleviation funds to the company in 2017 to support the construction of its food processing project.

Since 2016, a total of 39.89 billion yuan has been invested in more than 2,900 poverty alleviation projects in Tibet, which helped lift more than 238,000 people out of poverty and benefited more than 840,000 people, according to Wu.

With a surge in its product sales, the company's demand for highland barley also increased, and it began purchasing the crop from local farmers. And soon, highland barley, a crucial staple for Tibetans in the past, emerged as a cash cow for the locals.

Since 2018, the Tenzin family has been a major highland barley supplier for the company.

To better improve their lives, Tenzin expanded the plantation area of highland barley. During busy farming seasons, many of his family members who work in other places would return home to harvest the crop. He has also hired workers to assist him in highland barley cultivation.

"Now I am not only my own master, but I also have money in my pocket," said Tenzin with visible pride.

"To increase farmers' income, we have been insisting on purchasing highland barley from them at an above-market price -- 0.4 to 0.8 yuan per kg higher," said Liu Xueting, general manager of Tibet Deqin Sunshine Manor Co., Ltd. "Although the company spends several million yuan more on this every year, bringing great operating pressure, we still think it is of great significance to develop the highland barley industry, which can promote poverty alleviation."

This year, the company has purchased more than 800 tonnes of highland barley in Xigaze. It also helps local farmers and herders shake off poverty by offering jobs and dividends.

In 2018, more than 60 local college graduates were employed by the company and it recruited another 55 impoverished people the following year. Meanwhile, the company paid a 4.3 million-yuan dividend generated by the highland barley industry to more than 3,000 households in 2019.

According to the company, its annual processing capacity is expected to reach 100,000 tonnes, and more than 50 new jobs will be created for the locals after its intensive processing project for highland barley is fully operational.

"We hope to make the highland barley industry flourish, share profits with the local people and introduce our products to other regions as well as the global market," said Liu.  

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Across China: Highland barley turns cash cow for Tibetan farmers

Once reeling under poverty with barely enough harvest to make ends meet, Tenzin is now able ...