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Native researcher brings light of science to rural Tibet
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Lighting the alcohol lamp at the laboratory sometimes reminds Cering Zhoigar of the first time, with help from her grandmother, she lit a butter lamp as a little girl and placed it in front of a Buddha statue on the Tibetan New Year Eve.

The flames of the different lamps have both brought hope to the people living in the plateau region of Tibet, said Zhoigar.

Except for the laboratory notebook she always carries, the 32-year-old woman, a researcher with the agricultural science and technology promotion center of the Bomi County in eastern Tibet, looks just like any other Tibetan woman of her age, especially when she wears a mask as protection from the strong sun.

Zhoigar's work is no different from that of other grassroots agricultural scientific researchers in China. She calls herself "alab farmer".

"The difference between the real farmers and us is that their land is much larger than ours in size," said Zhoigar.

Zhoigar comes from a civil servant family in Xigaze. She began her work in Bomi after graduating from the regional agricultural and animal husbandry college in 1997.

Traditionally, on the plateau with an average altitude of more than 3,000 meters, Tibetans make a living through farming and livestock. The Nyingchi Prefecture, where the Bomi County is located, is known as "granary of Tibet" as the low-altitude prefecture boasts nearly one-fourth of the region's total farmland.

Zhoigar thought she arrived at the right place to practice what she had learned at college, but old-fashioned values soon taught her a lesson in patience.

In addition to the hardship of long hours of outdoor work, Zhoigar found that her fellow Tibetans had avoided the agricultural technologies that had already been widely applied in the rest of China.

The first time she and her instructor visited villages plagued by pests, Zhoigar found the villagers were resistant to suggestions about using pesticide. The villagers, mostly devout Buddhists, believed one of the most important commandments in Buddhism was to not kill any living thing -- including pests that destroyed crops.

"Some children in the village even called me witch and called the pesticide we brought 'toxic water'," Zhoigar said .

Additionally, Zhoigar's was embarrassed when her first training class for the villagers was attended by the village's children, and not their parents.

With the support of the village officials, Zhoigar and her colleagues finally persuaded several families to try using pesticide, however the elders of these families forbade them to do so until they got the permission from the living Buddha in the nearby monastery.

"Even then, some villagers burnt juniper twigs beside their land, a religious ritual of talking to Buddha, before allowing the spraying of pesticide," said Zhoigar.

"It's hard for outsiders to believe that just more than 10 years ago, people in some remote villages in our county believed more gains came from harder work, but not technology," she said.

"It was disappointing, but I realized the way to change their ideas was to prove that our technology was effective," said Zhoigar.

Zhoigar's work did save some losses for the villagers who were willing to try her agricultural experiments. Their gains helped Zhoigar win the trust of others.

Through the years of working in the rural areas, Zhoigar has witnessed the changes in people's life.

Most villagers moved out of the two-floor wooden houses, with stables on the ground floor, into the new brick buildings. TV sets and washing machines are no longer intangible luxuries to farmers. Though tsampa, roasted barley with butter, remain the favorite food for most villagers, exotic vegetables, such as mushrooms and broccoli, also appear on their menus.

Another surprise to Zhoigar was that she and her colleagues become more and more popular among the villagers.

"We used to visit the villagers' home one by one and almost beg them to adopt our suggestions, but now they invited us to give classes on farming," said Zhoigar.

She has become busier since the regional agriculture department planned to make Bomi County a breeding center of gastrodia tuber, a traditional Chinese herbal medicine used to treat headaches and epilepsy.

Zhoigar plans to go to receive further education on breeding gastrodia tuber and mushroom at the Southwest University in the neighboring Sichuan Province in summer.

"The gap of scientific technologies remains between Tibet and the inland regions. I hope what I learn at the university is able to help bring more benefits to the people here," she said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 23, 2009)

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