Highland barley turns cash cow for Tibetan farmers

DM Monitoring

LHASA: 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.