Fresh start in Ti­bet

Im­pov­er­ished vil­lagers re­lo­cate for jobs and mod­ern hous­ing

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Shop­ping for daily ne­ces­si­ties used to be a lux­ury for Pasang Drolma. The near­est store was in a town 30 kilo­me­ters away, and she only had the time to make the jour­ney twice a year.

As no pub­lic buses ran though her iso­lated vil­lage in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, to get there she would have to wait be­side a dirt road for up to an hour to flag down a pri­vate minibus or taxi ser­vice.

That was un­til the end of last year, how­ever, be­fore the 46-year-old mother moved to Duishi­gagyi, a new vil­lage in Chushul county built spe­cially to give im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies a fresh start.

So far, 365 house­holds — roughly 1,700 peo­ple — have been re­set­tled in the area as part of an on­go­ing poverty al­le­vi­a­tion pro­gram. Res­i­dents en­joy con­ve­nient pub­lic trans­porta­tion links, and “now we live in a spa­cious and much more com­fort­able new house”, Pasang Drolma said.

Pure Land, a re­gional gov­ern­ment-spon­sored agri­cul­tural project nearby, has also pro­vided a range of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Due to un­fa­vor­able weather and soil con­di­tions in their old vil­lage, Pasang Drolma and her hus­band had barely been able to grow enough grain to feed them­selves. The fam­ily’s only in­come was the 7,000 yuan ($1,070) a year their el­dest son made work­ing as a restau­rant waiter in Lhasa, the re­gional cap­i­tal.

Pasang Drolma and her youngest son now earn 100 yuan a day do­ing farm­work at Pure Land. “We don’t have to work ev­ery day, we just work when we want,” she said. “We made more than 10,000 yuan in the first half of this year.”

The re­gional gov­ern­ment started the Pure Land project in 2013. The area pro­duces maca, a root veg­etable na­tive to the South Amer­i­can An­des; snow chrysan­the­mum, which is used mainly for tea; or­ganic grapes, peaches and roses; in­gre­di­ents for tra­di­tional Ti­betan medicine; or­ganic meat, and dairy prod­ucts.

“The in­dus­try was brought in be­fore peo­ple were re­lo­cated to the area,” said Sonam Yangkyi, a vil­lage cadre in Duishi­gagyi. “All the re­set­tled fam­i­lies have at least one per­son who can work, so they ben­e­fit from the in­dus­try.”

China’s grow­ing de­mand for or­ganic prod­ucts and tra­di­tional Ti­betan medicine has proved good news for the agri­cul­tural project, which is in a clean, high-al­ti­tude en­vi­ron­ment.

“One kilo­gram of or­di­nary peaches only sells for about 30 yuan, but a sin­gle peach from the Pure Land zone can sell for 100 yuan,” Sonam Yangkyi said.

Last year, the project cre­ated 127,500 jobs and in­creased the per capita in­come in Duishi­gagyi by about 6,000 yuan, ac­cord­ing to the vil­lage com­mit­tee, which did not pro­vide the ac­tual in­come fig­ure. It added that the 89 en­ter­prises with op­er­a­tions in the zone had a com­bined out­put of 3.7 bil­lion yuan.

Duishi­gagyi was one of 353 new set­tle­ments built in Ti­bet last year to re­lo­cate 77,000 peo­ple from iso­lated ar­eas, with most next to in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ments to en­sure abun­dant job op­por­tu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to Lu Huadong, deputy di­rec­tor of the Ti­bet Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion Of­fice.

A fur­ther 450 new vil­lages with room for 163,000 peo­ple were also planned this year, as the re­gion looks to build a com­pre­hen­sively well-off so­ci­ety by 2020, he added.

‘A key pe­riod’

Most of the peo­ple be­ing re­set­tled live in high, cold ar­eas with lim­ited re­sources, a frag­ile ecol­ogy and a se­vere preva­lence of Kaschin-Beck disease, a chronic bone con­di­tion. Re­lo­ca­tion is usu­ally the only way to es­cape poverty.

“The re­gional gov­ern­ment has in­vested 4 bil­lion yuan to pro­mote in­dus­tries with lo­cal fea­tures in poor ar­eas, as well as re­lo­cat­ing 77,000 peo­ple last year,” Lu said.

Ti­bet had about 590,000 peo­ple clas­si­fied as ru­ral poor by the end of 2015, and about 150,000 were lifted out of poverty last year, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data. “It’s a key pe­riod for the war against poverty this year,” Lu said. “We will con­tinue map­ping out poli­cies in line with the vary­ing lo­cal sit­u­a­tions as well as in­crease fund­ing.”

Mov­ing to a new set­tle­ment is vol­un­tary, he said, al­though the ma­jor changes seen in the lives of those al­ready in new homes has helped in the gov­ern­ment’s work to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to re­lo­cate.

Drolma, 53, who used to live in the same re­mote vil­lage as Pasang Drolma, chose to move with her fam­ily to the newly built Sum­dan vil­lage in July last year.

She and her daugh­ter had been un­em­ployed, but al­most in­stantly after re­lo­cat­ing they found jobs. Drolma now works at a cat­tle farm, while her daugh­ter is a child care worker at a kinder­garten. To­gether, they earn more than 5,000 yuan a month.

The fam­ily’s new home has had a steady stream of vis­i­tors, with friends and rel­a­tives keen to see the place, Drolma said.

“Some of them stay for days and don’t want to leave,” she said. “They say they ad­mire me very much and that I made the right de­ci­sion to move.”

Now we live in a spa­cious and much more com­fort­able new house.” Pasang Drolma, one of the vil­lagers re­lo­cated to Duishi­gagyi


Pasang Drolma, 46, works on a farm near Duishi­gagyi, a newly built vil­lage in Chushul county. The farm is part of the gov­ern­ment-backed Pure Land project.

Drolma, 53, spends time with her daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren at home.

Drolma works on a cat­tle farm near her new home in Sum­dan vil­lage.

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