Badro (center), Secretary of the Communist Party of China Benak Village Branch (ZHANG WEI)
In Benak, a village in Dagze District of Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, 55-year-old Badro is deemed as a dedicated pathfinder by villagers.
As a native of the village, he became a member of the village committee in 1999 and was elected secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Benak Village Branch in 2008. Since October 2015, in addition to briefing villagers on government policies and providing services for them, he has been busy with targeted poverty alleviation.
At an average altitude of 3,880 meters, Benak has 2,646 villagers in 660 households and beautiful natural scenery. According to Badro, economic growth in the village was quite sluggish about a decade ago when most villagers relied on planting highland barley and raising cattle for a living, with an average annual income per household of just over 1,000 yuan ($146).
In 2008, the committee began developing specialty industries, such as strawberry planting, lingka tourism, copper Buddha statue manufacturing and tsampa making, to improve people's life. In Tibetan language, lingka means parks. With more people getting involved in these industries, a total of 339 villagers from 74 registered poor households shook off poverty in 2018.
"We have built 15 professional cooperatives for farmers and herdsmen, 44 strawberry greenhouses and five lingka resorts for leisure tourist activities. In 2019, the per-capita annual income of the villagers was over 17,000 yuan ($2,490)," Badro told Beijing Review.
Toward common prosperity
Since local people could only earn a small income from grain planting and cattle raising in the past, Badro started to explore alternative approaches for improving their livelihood. In 2008, he visited Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province in east China and was inspired to promote strawberry planting in Benak.
During the visit, Badro learned that strawberry planting has greatly improved the income of people in Zhenjiang and that the natural conditions, including soil, temperature and humidity in Benak, are suitable for planting strawberries. To promote strawberry planting in the village, he contacted officials of agricultural and husbandry bureaus in Dagze and Lhasa and asked for seeds and technical assistance.
People in Benak had once tried planting cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, but fierce competition between vegetable sellers in Lhasa made it hard for them to make a good profit.
In the beginning, villagers were hesitant about strawberry planting. "Many villagers had never planted strawberries before and some didn't even know what the fruit is, so there were a lot of concerns about whether they could succeed," Badro said.
"Village committee members went door to door to persuade 10 households to build strawberry greenhouses," he said.
With 300,000 yuan ($43,900) from the Ministry of Agriculture and savings from the 10 households totaling 30,000 yuan ($4,400), a strawberry planting cooperative was established in 2009.
In that year, strawberry planting started in the village. At the inception, many strawberries were killed by the cold weather since local people were unfamiliar with the planting techniques. To address the problem, Badro went to Zhenjiang to learn from agricultural technicians and returned to teach local farmers. The village committee also reached out to experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
In the first half of 2010, the farmers saw the first bumper harvest, attracting more villagers to engage in the industry. In 2016, a strawberry processing factory was established, which employed 1,340 villagers, improving their per-capita annual income by over 2,000 yuan ($290) by 2019.
According to Badro, seven types of high-yield strawberries have been introduced in the village. As of 2019, there were 72 local households engaging in strawberry planting, with an output of about 30 tons per year and revenue totaling over 800,000 yuan ($117,200). The industry has helped improve the average annual income of 18 registered poor households in the village by over 9,000 yuan ($1,300) as of last year.
"The greenhouses have also attracted many tourists from across Lhasa to pick strawberries, further expanding villagers' income channels," he said. "But to rest the land, we didn't plant strawberries this year, and will continue to develop the industry next year."
Since the village enjoys natural advantages for developing the tourism industry, Badro has also made great efforts with his colleagues to boost its lingka tourism. Initially developed with government funds and villagers' investment in 2006, lingka resorts in the village have been largely expanded, with management improved. According to Badro, about 130,000 tourists visited lingka resorts in the village last year, with revenue totaling 2.4 million yuan ($351,000). "The boom in the tourism industry can be attributed to the pleasant environment here, and we will further promote green and sustainable development in the industry," Brado said.
Along with eight other villages in Tibet, Benak made it onto the list of China's key rural tourism spots released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the National Development and Reform Commission in 2019, which contained 320 villages in total.
The village has also found new impetus from traditional industries including Buddha statue manufacturing, tsampa making and animal husbandry. Badro explained that the village established a tsampa workshop in 2013. It buys highland barley from local farmers at prices higher than average and has created 53 jobs for people from registered poor households. After the branding of local tsampa products, the workshop's annual profits reached 270,000 yuan ($39,500) per year.
Through developing diverse industries, including raising Tibetan chicks and cows, Brado said, the villagers are moving toward a more prosperous life.
A lingka site in Benak Village on August 18 (ZHANG WEI)
Serving the people
Besides contributing to local economic growth, Badro has also fulfilled his responsibilities to serve the people. Since January 23, he has been dedicated to containing the novel coronavirus disease, even working through Spring Festival and New Year on the Tibetan Calendar, which fell in late January and February respectively. He has worked at disinfection and examination checkpoints on the main roads to the village and has led villagers in sanitizing efforts. He also went to villagers' houses every day to help monitor their body temperature.
When school classes were suspended due to the outbreak, Badro learned that many students in the village could not attend online classes because their houses were not equipped with a wireless network. "Through contacts with the telecommunication bureau of Dagze, the problems of poor network signals were addressed," he said.
In recent years, Brado has worked with other members of the village committee to improve investment in healthcare and education. In 2008, the committee began to set aside more than 40,000 yuan ($5,850) from collective funds for purchasing medical insurance for villagers and allocated more than 20,000 yuan ($2,900) for school construction, school meal improvement and stationery purchasing for poor students. It has also provided scholarships to local students admitted into universities. More than 80 local students have received since 2008.
Looking toward the future, Badro is confident that Benak will see even brighter prospects. "We are building new tourist attractions to create more jobs, and will also improve agricultural technique training to increase output and help farmers earn more profits. Our specialty industries can help villagers shake off poverty and steadily improve their income," he said.
(Reporting from Tibet Autonomous Region)
(Print Edition Title: A Pathfinder)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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