Foreigners visit the Fourth China Tibet Tourism and Culture Expo in Lhasa, capital of southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, Sept. 10, 2018. (Xinhua/Chogo)
Sicho Dorje couldn’t be more familiar with the taste of air-dried yak meat. For generations, Tibetan herders without refrigerators had yak meat air-dried in winter, sometimes stored it in sheds made of cow dung, and ate it with Tsampa, the roasted barley flour, and buttered tea all year round.
Growing up eating air-dried yak meat in northern Tibet, the 29-year-old is now doing what he calls “a pioneering job”: providing customers with the freshest yak meat possible.
Because his company, Changtang Animal Husbandry Development Company, has a cold chain logistics service, he can sell dozens of chilled yak meat products across China.
“It takes 72 hours to deliver our yak meat to Beijing and 40 hours to Chengdu. In Zhejiang, our minced beef balls sell quite well,” said Sicho Dorje, who leads the company’s marketing department.
Marrow bones which used to be smashed for soup braising in herders’ kitchens have now appeared in the fast-frozen food counters of supermarkets, neatly sliced and packaged to retain freshness.
“The old-generation of herders lacked market awareness and seldom thought about how to tap the market. Since stock breeding is the most profitable industry on the Plateau, our job is to figure out how to be competitive,” he said.
This year, the company, established less than two years ago, is expected to achieve 360 million yuan (about 52.5 million U.S. dollars) in output value.
“We are confident about the market, as yak meat customers value freshness and nutrition,” he said.
At the Fourth China Tibet Tourism and Culture Expo, many Tibetan enterprises like Changtang Animal Husbandry set up booths to display their products.
The black fungus that grows in the withered branches of silk oak trees in Yatung County of southern Tibet, reserved for nobles and a tribute to the Panchen Lama in old Tibet, has been turned into health care drinks.
Wild alpine roses appeared on an exhibition booth in the form of Tibetan perfume processed using an ancient technique, with their aroma able to stay on the skin for almost seven days.
Organically-produced Tibetan eggs were also a hit, costing 20 yuan each, much more expensive than regular eggs.
Tibetan farmers with an organic egg farm in Lhozhag County even discovered four different flavors of the eggs based on how long they are boiled.
Li Guowei, a manager with China National Cereals, Oils, and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) who is familiar with the development of the egg farm, said Tibetan farmers have never been so attentive to standardized production, and never been so market-oriented.
The competition among mineral water producers was fierce at the expo, as there are already 35 natural drinking water companies in Tibet. Last year, the industry produced nearly 800,000 tonnes of natural drinking water with an aggregate output value of 1.58 billion yuan, up 28.17 percent from a year earlier.
Although mineral water is tasteless, Droma, a sales clerk with a mineral water company, said there was a small difference in mouthfeel, reflecting the disparity in mineral content, which might appeal to different customers.
Embracing the market, fearing no competition and exploring a type of business to magnify their advantages have become the standard features of Tibet’s booming entrepreneurs, according to Li Guowei, who has been working in Tibet for nine years.
SENSE OF MISSION
The entrepreneurial spirit, as Qizhala, chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, noted at the expo, is powered by the aspiration to get rid of poverty and a sense of purpose to explore a sustainable, eco-friendly economy on the Plateau.
“Inheritance and pioneering are most needed in Tibet as there is no ready-made development path for Tibet to take. No other regions face such a grand challenge as Tibet does in terms of pursuing high-quality development,” said Qizhala. “When growing the economy, Tibet must consider the land’s environmental bearing capacity, prioritize ecological protection and minimize environmental costs.”
For decades, Tibet has largely depended on the fiscal input of the central government and the support of other developed provinces as well as the centrally-administered state-owned enterprises for development.
The success of each entrepreneurship program often concerns many poverty-stricken households. Sicho Dorje’s fast-frozen yak meat business, for instance, has signed up 3,000 impoverished herders, while the Tibetan egg farm in Lhozhag County hires 51 local farmers.
When the industrial revolution swept the world in the 19th century, Tibet’s economy under serfdom was static, and the region completely missed it, said Qizhala.
Now after 40 years of opening-up and reform of the Chinese economy, Tibetans have accumulated sufficient knowledge to explore a proper development path on the Plateau, said Qizhala.
ASPIRATION TO BE EXCELLENT
Kesang Tashi, 75, runs Khawachen Carpet and Wool Handicraft company, where Tibetan craftsmen use ancient techniques of yarn spinning, hand dying, weaving, washing and finishing to make rugs with certified northern Tibet highland sheep wool, one of the best in the world.
Haunted by the question about why Tibet has the best wool in the world but couldn’t produce the world’s best rugs, Kesang Tashi established Khawachen many years ago and has been striving to make a difference.
The Khawachen rugs fusing Tibet’s traditional designs rich in cultural significance with modern aesthetics have been sold to Japan, Britain, the United States, Germany, and Australia.
At the expo, Khawachen rugs were quite popular due to their unique colors and floral designs.
In Kesang Tashi’s opinions, a good rug deserves the greetings from its users. “When you enter the room and see the rug, you should put your palms together and say ‘Tashi Delek,’ which will bring good vibes and brighten up your mind,” he said.
But Khawachen is not the only Tibetan company seeking to revive Tibetan crafts in the modern economy.
Phudreng, who runs a Tibetan folk product company in Lhasa, the regional capital, spent ten years developing a rose-scented Tibetan perfume with the hope that one day Tibetan perfume could be as famous as French perfume.
Starting her business in a small workshop, Phudreng never lost heart in promoting the Tibetan traditional handicraft despite the difficulties she encountered.
Growing up with a tough living environment, Tibetan entrepreneurs tend to be optimistic and full of passion with what they have been doing.
For Sicho Dorje, the next step for his marketing team is to survey the overseas market to increase exports.
“I am sure our yak meat tastes better than Kobe beef and Australian beef, as no other grasslands across the world can rival our Changtang plateau,” he said.
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