Tiny barley grains reveal decades of transformation in Tibet


Tibetans plant mountain barley in Nyingchi town, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, March 2018. / VCG

Tibetans plant mountain barley in Nyingchi town, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, March 2018. / VCG

Known as the roof of the world, the Tibetan Plateau, with its extreme altitudes, relentless winds and harsh climate, can be uninhabitable for humans.

Barley, which is frost resistant and cold tolerant, is therefore the lifeline for Tibetans. Having a mechanism to survive the harsh mountainous conditions, it has been a constant source of food for Tibetans for thousands of years. Therefore, it makes up a large part of the Tibetan diet – it is ground into flour and roasted to make tsampa, a common traditional staple.

The cultivation of barley was also a major source of income for farmers in Tibet. Originally grown by small farmers who used manual techniques for sowing and harvesting, it was sold at a very low price – maximum 2 yuan (about 30 US cents) per 500 grams. But things have changed with the industrial transformation of recent years.

“When we arrived in Tibet, there were hardly any pruning barley processing companies in the area. Little automation was used and productivity was very low,” Wang Fengzhong, director of the Institute of Food Science and Technology from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. , told CGTN.

A local farmer shows stalks of high altitude barley called “Zangqing 2000” in Bainang County, Shigatse, Tibet, China, September 7, 2013. / Xinhua

A local farmer shows stalks of high altitude barley called “Zangqing 2000” in Bainang County, Shigatse, Tibet, China, September 7, 2013. / Xinhua

Due to the low oxygen levels in the area, the use of manual labor for harvesting and processing was ineffective. Wang, together with scientists from the Tibetan Academy of Agricultural and Livestock Sciences, sought to introduce large-scale automation in barley processing enterprises.

The company they selected for pilot testing was Deqin Sunshine Manor, a barley deep processing company in the town of Shigatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 2016, new factories were built and new conveyor belts and machines were installed. Rather than focusing solely on producing ground barley as a primary staple, the company specializes in processing barley into high value-added products, such as dietary supplements and snacks.

With an increase in processing efficiency, the company’s demand for raw barley has skyrocketed. Each year, more than 50,000 tonnes of barley were purchased by the company from Tibetan farmers.

“The barley price set by the company is higher than the market price, at around 2.4 yuan per 500 grams, which means that farmers can have 0.4 yuan per 500 grams of income,” said a Tibetan farmer, and now employed at Deqin Sunshine. Manor, in an interview with CCTV. Her family was once deeply mired in poverty, but now, thanks to employment opportunities and the company’s purchasing program, she has a monthly salary of around 5,000 yuan, and her family has got rid of her. poor status.

According to Chinese media, more than 2,000 deeply impoverished Tibetan residents were lifted out of poverty by collaborating with the company as of 2019.

The transformation of the barley processing industry is part of the state’s efforts to develop agricultural enterprises to reduce poverty. A number of barley processing factories were then established in areas close to poor areas of Tibet to provide jobs as well as sources of income for farmers and local residents. Greenhouse vegetable planting has also been introduced to add to the variety of crops that local farmers can grow and rely on.

Vegetable greenhouses in Xiemai Village in Dengqen County in Qamdo, Tibet, China, November 4, 2017. / Xinhua

Vegetable greenhouses in Xiemai Village in Dengqen County in Qamdo, Tibet, China, November 4, 2017. / Xinhua

With the introduction of automation, the annual barley production in Tibet has increased significantly, reaching 795,000 tonnes in 2020, an all-time high.

The discovery of high-yielding barley was instrumental in increasing barley production, in addition to the introduction of high-tech processing equipment and automation.

Nyima Tashi, Tibet’s chief scientist for the breeding of highland barley crops and former director of the Tibetan Academy of Agricultural and Livestock Sciences, was the main promoter of high barley varieties. performance in the region.

One of his major discoveries was Zangqing 2000, a high-yielding barley breed that made up more than half of the highland barley area planted in Tibet. After sowing the high-yielding variety, farmers were able to sell their excess harvest to local barley processors, which spurred the growth of businesses in the field to more than a few hundred in 2019.

Containing many nutrients, such as protein, fiber, minerals, and B vitamins, foods produced from barley can help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of chronic and metabolic diseases. Barley’s high tolerance to frost and dehydration has made it an ideal crop for ensuring food security on the Tibetan plateau.