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April 24, 2012

 

China's Tibet aims to secure enough highland barley stock

 

 

Tibet, Southwest China's autonomous region, is working to secure sufficient output of highland barley, the Tibetans' staple food and an icon of the plateau culture.

 

Tibet expects its annual barley output to top 620,000 tonnes this year and increase to 630,000 tonnes by 2015, according to Gao Ling, chief agricultural scientist with the regional government's farming and herding department.

 

"The barley harvest is crucial in maintaining Tibet's food security, as unlike other supplies, this grain is indigenous to the plateau and cannot possibly be shipped in from interior provinces," Gao said Friday (Apr 20) in an interview with Xinhua.

 

Highland barley is a major ingredient in tsamba, the classic Tibetan foodstuff, and liquor. It is also a festive token, as Tibetans often sprinkle grains of barley as a means of celebration and greeting.

 

The booming processing trade in Tibet has posed higher demand for highland barley in recent years: barley beer has been sold across China and to the US, and Tibetan barley snacks are popular among Chinese urbanites as a healthy, low-fat food.

 

Barley production, however, has declined as many farmers prefer to plant vegetables, fruits and other crops that promise higher economic returns, pointed out Sun Yong, vice president of Tibet's Academy of Social Sciences.

 

"Many farmers have learned modern farming techniques that enable them to plant crops for higher profits," said Sun.

 

From last year, he said, the central and regional government had implemented new policies, including higher subsidies, to encourage highland barley production.

 

"Farmers can get extra subsidies for growing barleys and promoting new, high-yield species," said Drolma, an official with Tibet's farming and herding department.

 

The government subsidy for barley farmers has increased to RMB15 (US$2.38) per mu, a Chinese unit of area equivalent to 667 square meters, from RMB4.5 (US$0.71) in 2006, she said.

 

Last year, barley farmers in 64 Tibetan counties received the subsidy, which was in place in only 25 counties in 2006, according to Drolma.

 

Meanwhile, Tibet's barley farmers received a total of RMB110 million (US$17.44 million) in government subsidies last year for farming equipment procurement, she said.

 

She added the government will provide additional subsides to the tune of RMB100 million (US$15.86 million) in the first half of this year to upgrade farming equipment for barley farmers.

 

"It's also crucial to increase output by promoting modern farming technologies," said Gao, "which is very challenging in Tibet, where agricultural production relies solely on the weather conditions.

 

By 2015, she said, Tibet hopes to foster 16,667 hectares of quality barley farms.

 

Xigaze, a leading grain production base, is home to 730 hectares of barley cropland. "The farmers get tips from technicians at every single stage, from plowing to harvest," said Dawa, the city's chief of farming and herding industries.

 

He told Xinhua local farmers benefited from harvesting barley last year, selling barley grain and quality seeds.

 

Sonam Tsering, a farmer in Xigaze, said his family harvested 56 tonnes of barley and earned more than RMB100,000 (US$15,857).

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