Fresh start in Tibet
Impoverished villagers relocate for jobs and modern housing
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.