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09:51 Jul 09 2009

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English>>Tibet Online
New look of Tibetan farmers
09:58, July 09, 2009  

Author Liu Wei is a Tibetologist and a senior reporter of Xinhua. This piece, written in 1990, is selected from Liu's book "Tell You a Real Tibet," which was published in 2008 by Xinhua Publishing House.

Tibet has three "80 percents", namely, farmers and herders make up 80 percent of Tibet's population, the illiteracy rate is 80 percent, and agriculture and animal husbandry account for 80 percent of Tibet's GDP.

The invigoration of agriculture and animal husbandry is the focus of Tibet's economic development.

Since 1980, the Central Government has been pursuing a rehabilitation policy in Tibet by privatizing farmland and livestock. As a result, Tibetan farmers and herders have begun to shake off poverty and embark on the path of prosperity.

The outside world is very interested in Tibet, not only for its religious culture and plateau landscape, but also for the trapezoid social and economic development caused by its unique geographical conditions. In hard-of-access deep valleys and forests access, local villagers are still using wooden ploughs and hoes, while in easily accessible regions, farmers have taken a step to modernization.

By the Brahmaputra River in Shannan Prefecture, southeastern Tibet, 45-year-old Gama Sangzhu took the lead in realizing agricultural mechanization and domestic electrification in Jiesha Village.

In 1982, he contracted for a farmland of 15.5 mu (15 mu equals one hectare). Since he paid close attention to agricultural techniques, he achieved a per-mu yield of 600 kg, ranking first in his town. In the past, the per-mu yield was only 50 kg, whereas the maximum figure in the 1960s was 150 kg. It was beyond one's imagination that the per-mu yield could hit 1,000 kg.

Gama Sangzhu recalled that when he was eleven years old, all his six family members were serfs, with the land, house and freedom held by their serf owners. But now, he has eliminated poverty and embarked on the road of prosperity thanks to his hard work and the policies of the Communist Party of China. Never forgetting where his happiness comes from, he and other members of his family have sold 20,000 kg of surplus grain to the government in seven years. Recently, he had a new house of 16 rooms built and bought a hand tractor, a small combine, a seeder, a thresher, a flour mill machine, and so on.

"What is your next target?" I asked Gama Sangzhu.

Rubbing his coarse hands, Gama Sangzhu said, "We farmers are mostly illiterate. Our agricultural machines are too old and our farming techniques need updating. So our next generation must have a good knowledge and should not do farming according to experiences like me."

In the four villages administered by the Jiesha Residents' Committee, 20 percent families have sent their children to Tibetan middle schools in inland cities, leading to a much lower ratio of illiterate people. Gama Sangzhu hoped that his children would return to Tibet upon graduation from colleges.

When I was in eastern Tibet two years ago, I found that spurred by the long-term policy of permitting farmers to contract for land, they made lots of money soon. Yet many better-off farmers did not use their money to expand production. Instead they traveled thousands of km on a pilgrimage or spent some 10,000 yuan building a household sutra hall with Thangka, Buddha statues and scriptures enshrined.

Agricultural development relied largely on input. But Tibetan farmers invested insufficiently in farming since they had equal zeals for land and religion. At an economic symposium, although some people advocated the maintenance of egalitarianism in Tibet, most participants agreed that Tibet's economic development required the change of the natural economy of agriculture and animal husbandry, and the change of the concept of reliance on a supply-oriented economy.

The family of Nima Dunzhu, a villager in Bianxiong Town, Xigaze Prefecture, contracted for 50 mu of farmland and has sold 50,000 kg of commodity grain to the government. Meanwhile, the farm run by his family has been growing rapidly in the past two years, from doing farming only to pursuing diverse operations.

Now, his family has 120 sheep and cattle and his family members are engaged in woodworking, masonry, tailoring and transportation. They have contracted for a water mill, bought an oil mill and a flour mill to start up a household workshop. In addition, they have built a two-story house with 30 rooms.

According to the Tibet Regional Agriculture Commission, Tibet has bought 13,000 tractors, 5,000 harvesters and threshers in the past 30 years. Since the 1980s, the per-capita income of Tibetan farmers has been rising steadily with 10,000 agricultural machines bought for personal use. With some manual labor replaced by mechanized operations, Tibetan farmers are beginning to take the path of agricultural mechanization.

During the 38 years after the peaceful liberation, Tibet experienced the transition from wooden plough and steel tools to farm machines and from serfs to land contractors. In a letter written to the leadership of Tibet Autonomous Regional Government, some villagers in Gyantse County said that even with the introduction of the initiative-based contractual responsibility system, they still had to rely on the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and agricultural science and technology.

While covering Gynastse, I became deeply aware that CPC organizations at grass-roots play an essential role in organizing agricultural production. Heeding agricultural science and technology enabled people to view Tibet's relatively backward agriculture in a new perspective. Lu Shisheng, deputy secretary of the Gyantse County CPC Committee, said that sowing of improved varieties of seed, machine ploughing and use of chemical fertilizers have all exceeded 80 percent.

A few years ago, however, it was very hard to spread the use of agricultural science and technology. When work began to promote the use of pesticides, some farmers poured them into the water covertly. When an insect plague occurred, some farmers were reluctant to kill the insects. So they invited lamas to chant sutras to ward off the pests. Unfortunately, their wishful act backfired with locusts turning the sky dark. In contrast, agricultural chemicals were used in the neighboring farmland with the help of agricultural technicians. When autumn came, the farmland where no pesticides were used was nearly barren, while its neighboring land reported a good harvest.

Phuntshogs, secretary of CPC Gyantse County CPC Committee, contracted a plot for household experiments. Under the guidance of agricultural technicians, the land yielded 400 kg of grain per mu annually. Phountshogs asked county-level and township-level officials to observe his plot and told them the advantages of agricultural techniques.

Lunzhu, a former Tibetan farmer, said that after being convinced by the fact that the annual per-mu yield of winter wheat surged from 150 kg to 853 kg, he turned himself into a knowledgeable agricultural technician. To spread the knowledge of scientific agriculture, he has visited almost all the towns and villages in Gyantse County in the past 15 years.

Now, every town has an agricultural technique promotion center and every village has specialized personnel to spread the use of agricultural techniques.

In 1989, Gyantse County, with a population of 50,000, harvested 45 million kg of grains.

Lu Shisheng said, "In the past, the farmers were unwilling to use fertilizers. but now, I am afraid that they would probably raise the roof if they did not have chemical fertilizers to use."

Source: Xinhuanet

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