Thanks to modern technology, Tibetansare now making more money than they used to from qingke -- a kind of highland barley unique to west China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province.
Traditionally qingke is used only to make alcoholic spirits or zanba, a staple food for Tibetans made from roasted qingke flour, but now new products made from qingke like beer and cornmeal are selling like hot cakes.
Qingke is a veritable organic food, experts say. The highland barley is nutritious, rich in mineral elements and a unique healthfood believed capable of reducing blood fats, improving digestion,and preventing diabetes and altitude sickness.
These days, qingke is no longer monopolized by Tibetan farmers and herdsmen, but is finding favor among a growing number of townies.
Lobsang Wangdui is board chairman of the Tibet Shenggu Qingke Foodstuffs Development Co. which has developed qingke cornmeal.
"Previously, because simple and backward methods were used to process qingke, the added value of its products was low, so a qingke barley farmer could not earn much though he might harvest 50,000 kg of qingke barley," said Lobsang.
Lobsang said that applying modern science to developing a series of products based on the typical Tibetan crop could enormously raise the added value of qingke and with it increase the incomes of Tibetan farmers. This in turn helped the economy develop with a Tibetan flavor and agriculture adjust.
According to Lobsang, his company successfully developed qingkecornmeal by using technology provided by food research institutes based in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces in 1999.
Lobsang disclosed that his company would soon put eight new qingke-based products on the market depending on demand.
A 14-member taskforce with the Lhasa Brewery of Tibet successfully developed quality beer made from qingke last October.
"I think qingke barley beer tastes good and cool," a Tibetan lad named Lhagba said after he drank a glass at a qingke barley beer promotion fair held early last month.
"It is really nice and I will stick to such beer in the future," said Lhagba, nodding his head in satisfaction.
Liu Houxi, a Lhasa Brewery official, said the qingke beer was now on sale and going down well with consumers.
"Tibetans have a long history of drinking clear alcoholic spirits made from qingke barley. However, such spirits, mostly distilled in cottage backyards, do not taste good because of inadequate hygiene and are losing more and more customers," said Liu.
Liu predicts that the qingke beer has great business potential as Lhasa Brewery has put the beer on the market at the right time and the beer appeals to modern consumers.
According to Liu, qingke barley has great brewing potential andprotein content and is capable of replacing wheat, the traditionalraw material in brewing.
The annual market demand for qingke beer is put at 20,000 tons,requiring about 30 million tons of qingke barley in raw materials.
Development of qingke barley-based products has helped Tibet find a way of using its huge grain stocks harvested in the past 14years, said a regional government official.
He was confident that along with the rising demand for qingke barley, local farmers' incomes would rise thanks to the added value of qingke products which would eventually spur Tibetan farmers' enthusiasm for growing the crop.
(Xinhua News Agency July 3, 2002)