Food Security and Sustainable Livelihoods for Poorest and Marginalised Tibetan Nomad Communities of Domda Township.

Project location: Tibet, Domda
Project start date: January 2020 - Project end date: December 2020
Project number: 2019-035
Beneficiary: ASSOCIAZIONE PER LA SOLIDARIETA’ INTERNAZIONALE IN ASIA – ASIA Onlus

Associazione per la Solidarietà Internazionale in Asia (ASIA) is an italian INGO which has been working for 30 years in the Tibetan regions of China for the safeguarding of the Tibetan culture and identity. ASIA is one of the very few international organizations which are still working in Qinghai, one of the Chinese regions inhabited by Tibetans. ASIA has a long lasting working experience with the nomads living on the Tibetan plateau. Since 1997, till nowadays, ASIA has participated to all the emergencies which hit the Plateau and destroyed the majority of the livestocks of this area. ASIA's interventions were focussed in rebuilding herds and flocks to guarantee the economic sustainibility of the nomads. During these years, ASIA has distributed more than 100.000 animals. ASIA has also implemented several projects aimed to develop the veterinary services of Yushu prefecture to imporve health and productivity of local livestock and to protect the population from the principal pathologies transmitted by animals to human through unsafe diary and meat products such as brucellosis, tubercolosis and echinococcosis. Finally, the Association has worked with nomads families to train women to develop family micro-enterprises to increase their economic sustainibility. For more than 30 years, ASIA has been involved in developing the nomads education building more than 20 boarding schools in remote areas, where the children can live and study when their families are moving from one pasture to another.

To understand this project by ASIA, it is necessary to provide some information regarding the general context and issues involved.

Although China has high development index, the populations of Qinghai Plateau have high poverty rates and are severely affected by impoverishment, decapitalization and marginalization. The project area is among the most remote, nomadic and poor in absolute terms, with an annual per capita income of around 300 Euros.

Among the major transformations that have undermined the traditional systems of food self-sufficiency, the following can be identified:
i) constant increase in the population compared to the number of livestock available;
ii) environmental degradation (lower availability of water, desertification and reduction of the available grazing lands),
iii) exceptional snowfalls and frosts, such as those of 1997 and 2008, which reduced the livestock capital of Tringdu County , with consequent food emergencies.

Drought in recent years has further reduced the livestock capital of local communities. The management of territory defined by the central government's political strategies considers the transition from an extensive and semi-nomadic pastoral model to an intensive, predominantly fixed-scale model based on the concept of private property. The political guidelines have also pushed local administrations to promote, within the nomadic communities, permanent models of breeding, starting from the limitation to transhumance, to the fencing of private pastures and, in general, to the dismantling of traditionally known breeding models.

The hoped-for effects of professionalization of the sector have actually been disregarded for several reasons:

i) the environmental system cannot support intensive farming due to the low productivity of the pastures, the short vegetative period and the worsening of the impacts of climate change, with increasingly long dry periods;
ii) the exceptional climatic events with disastrous impacts on the reduction of animal capital are more and more frequent and this causes a systematic reduction of the productive capacities of the nomads and a reduced capacity to professionalize the animal production sector and the management of the remaining animals;
iii) the scarce availability of pastures in good condition and the limitation to the nomadic styles of grazing has increased the incidence of many diseases that were previously much less dangerous and the nomads can hardly manage these emergencies;
iv) the support system for the animal production sector is not based on effective technical assistance services; the remote areas in which the beneficiary communities live do not allow for a widespread distribution of veterinary services and support for processing;
v) the market, increasingly volatile and subject to the influences of the whole of China, does not offer farmers programmable, certain and sufficient profits to invest privately in animal health or in the quality of processed and sold products.

The governmental initiative of the Ecological Resettlement Program foresees the creation of a protected natural reserve around the glaciers and springs of the rivers of Qinghai, imposing further constraints on the use of the pastures found on these territories. The restrictions imposed, however without any consultation with the communities traditionally legitimized to use those highland pastures, is a further limit imposed by the territorial policies to the Tibetan nomads and to their model of transhumant grazing patterns that has ensured - over the centuries - the maintenance of the economy and of Tibetan identity.
This context represents a situation of extremely high precariousness for the Tibetan pastoral communities in the area of intervention, which in these years face the inability to manage their own herds, to place their products on a regulated and transparent market and to be able to live with dignity on the difficult territories that they have always managed and cared for, maintaining their ecological services and preserving the habitats of many endemic species at risk, guaranteeing enormous benefits for all.

The project received a grant from the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation. It aims to improve the food security, the economic conditions of the nomads tribes of Domda Xiang, to improve the management of the grass land resources and pastures and to increase the productivity of the livestock capital of this area. The project origins from a long lasting relation between ASIA and the local authorities of Tringdu County, during the implementation of an emergency project to figth hunger within the nomads tribes of the county, financed by the Italian Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri. During the implementation of this project, ASIA updated a relevant study on local nomads economy realized in 2004 in Tringdu county (M. Nori, Hoofs on the Roof, 2004). During August 2016, 2017 and 2018, new studies, on food security, livestock situation, resilience of the local pastural system and emergency management has been carried on by ASIA. Local partners and beneficiaries have activiely participated in providing information, motivation and inputs to prepare this proposal. In January 2019,the People's government of Domda xiang send a request to ASIA to support the poorest families affected again by snowstomrs which hit this area during 2018 winter.

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