Recently I had an opportunity to sit with the head man of a village in Tangke a steppe community on the first bend of the Huang He (Yellow river) comprising about 130,000 hectares, seven semi nomadic villages and a small town of 7000 individuals. That's as near as I could gather anyway – my Chinese being poor, my Tibetan non existent, and numbers in particular being difficult in translation.
Initially, I did not know what the meeting was about but this man, Mr. Gabsang, had come down to Chengdu with the express purpose of meeting with me. At no warning I might add, as things are done around here. So after the eating and pleasantries he asked to come back to our office. To my considerable surprise, he proceeded to count out 25,200 RMB as repayment for the loans made to his village as part of the “Yak Bank” project Alpha Communities Sichuan undertook there - this one now completed. The project involved providing a yak and a small sum of money for its care to a family. Every second calf of each yak would then be donated to another family and the initial money loaned for the care of the animals repaid.
In addition to the money, Mr. Gabsang produced a stack of paper records maybe an inch and a half thick (that wafer thin Chinese paper too) with the loan and guarantor records for each family and those whom he had insisted stood guarantee for them. Complete with lines of thumb prints showing peoples assent to the documents and the validity of transactions. Little ones for the children. Every member of every family. I checked with Nima later, those loans were made 6 years ago. I was gob smacked.
Mr. Gabsang also told me that in the last 20 years his community had moved from poverty to “something better”. He said their food supply was now secure, they could eat meat and they could get education for their kids – Alpha sponsors a number of children in this area too. He acknowledged that Alpha Communities has had a significant hand in that and was grateful.
In addition to the Yak Bank and student sponsorship and associated support for children of the poorest households we also did a grassland planting and reclamation project in Tangke (pictured right). Logically enough this supported a sustainable food supply for the increased number of yaks.
An assessment of the economic benefits of the yak project alone is below. In the last 6 years on average, amongst the families in this community who participated in the project, there has been an average annual increase, year on year, of:
· 8 to 10 yaks
· 45 – 50 kilograms of Yak hair (used for tents, blankets and handcrafts)
· 180 kilograms of yak butter (a staple food and a saleable commodity)
· 30 kilogramsof yak milk cheese
· All loaned money has been repaid
· The yaks will continue breeding!
Mr. Gabsang said that they still had needs though and then went on to describe some. First and foremost amongst them, he said, was “knowledge”. This man is wise as well as reliable. Almost as a matter of principle, at this point, we shouldn't give this group of people exactly what they ask for (or what he asks for "his" people) because it establishes the wrong relationship. But we should dialogue with them and those in a similar position to find an optimum and inherently just route, in local context, to the specialisation, market/cash economy and infrastructure needed for wealth creation.
You helped lift the people of Tangke from poverty to sustainable subsistence; we can now help them lift themselves from subsistence to viable wealth creation. Until we do that, we have not yet completed our task.
Thank you for hanging in there with us! (written by Peter Dobbs, Company Director)