Across China: Tibetan villages exploring the way out of poverty

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Qushui County of Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Picture:  Xinhua/ChogoMedog County, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Picture: Xinhua/Zhang Rufeng
Amazed by the snow-capped mountains, lush forests and the serenity of all the herders he met, it was hard for Knupper to believe that the village, in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, was once mired in deep poverty. 

Villager Wangdui, 26, recalled how his family could not even afford to buy him new shoes when he was young. "I had a pair of rubber boots, and my father would use cattle hide to fix any holes -- so they finally turned into a pair of leather shoes," he said. 

He recalled that just over a decade ago, the village's first road opened. Wangdui said when he and his friends rushed to get a look at a jeep -- it was the first they had ever seen -- they discussed whether it should be fed grass or water. 
Now, thanks to policies to promote ecotourism, he runs a restaurant and hostel. He can make over 500,000 yuan (72,516 U.S. dollars) every year, and he is the proud owner of several vehicles. 

80 Kilometers away from Aden is Lhamge, another village tucked up in the mountains at an altitude of 3,600 meters. Several years ago, villagers relied on growing and selling highland barley and potatoes, and it was not unusual for villagers to sleep with their cattle in shelters perched on steep mountain cliffs. 

Villager Cering said cowpats littered the floors of people's homes, and the washing up was only done once a week as the nearest water source was at the bottom of the mountain. A poverty-alleviation campaign began in 2014. Besides measures to increase tourism, a cooperative was formed that processed matsutake, a fungus that grows in the area. 

Nowadays, Cering has built a kitchen and bathroom and the house have been equipped with tap water facilities. 

While developing industries, the local authorities were careful to protect the fragile environment. With the boom of tourism, more and more villagers used horses to take tourists on tours. Fearing that too many horses may endanger the ecological system, the township government put a limit on the number of horses allowed in tourist sites and compensated the villagers with the profit from ticket sales. 

Cering received 10,000 yuan in compensation. Cering's son in law was employed by the local government to be a forest ranger, and he is proud to have played an important role in stopping illegal logging. Two years after the campaign began and 43 poor households have been lifted above the poverty line. 

The township currently has 186 people in 39 households still living in poverty, said township head Gesang Nyima. The average annual income of those who live in the township reached 9,900 yuan in 2016, up 171 percent from 2011. 

Local governments at all levels are striving to transform the rich ecological resources into income for residents. China had seen its rural population living in poverty decrease from 770 million to 55.75 million between 1978 and 2015. An additional 10 million were lifted out of poverty last year, and the country is aiming to lift everyone out of poverty by 2020. 
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