Sustainable Agriculture in Tibet

Sustainable Agriculture in Tibet
Sustainable agriculture in Tibet is crucial, because of the lack of arable land and the volatile weather conditions the country faces. Ensuring the health of crops is important for the wellbeing of people living in the country.


Despite the fact that only a very limited portion of the Tibetan region is arable due to extreme weather conditions and altitudes, farming supplies grains that are essential to the population. Farmers are accustomed to using sustainable farming methods to maximize output and to ensure crops remain healthy through extreme climate. Crop rotation and mixing crops help to maintain the fertility of croplands in an area where there is a limited growing season. Barley is the main crop produced in Tibet, due to its use as a beneficial food source for the abundant livestock in the country. Other crops have been introduced, including rice, maize and wheat.

Livestock is the main type of farming on the plateaus of Tibet because of the lack of fertile land. Farmers are nomadic, and usually have a mixture of yaks, sheep and goats. The constant migration the farmers and livestock engage in gives adequate time for the pastures to recover lost fertility. It is estimated that 75 percent of the land in Tibet is pasture-based, with the natural wealth of animals present in the country.

Biogas Program Aims to Boost Farmer Incomes

A Beijing-based non-profit and Worldwatch Institute partner, the Global Environmental Institute (GEI), developed a biogas program in the mountainous Chinese province. The project provides clean, renewable energy to households and helps the region’s agriculture trade market. Located in Wujinmai Village, it is the most recent of GEI’s sustainable rural development program and based on a similar model used in a three-year-old program in the Yunnan province that boosted farmer incomes 20-fold.

GEI’s program, launched in April 2006, uses three aspects to address issues of pollution and poverty. The first area is composting animal manure, a potential groundwater pollutant, into both biogas for energy and fertilizer for growing organic crops. GEI trains farmers to manage and maintain the biogas systems, which use small tanks that require only one cow or three pigs to provide 1–2 five-person households with year-round heating and cooking fuel. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “the clean, renewable and free source of energy eliminates the need for Tibetans to spend hours each day collecting firewood.”

The second aspect of the program, greenhouses for organic agriculture production that double as homes for the biogas tanks, which would otherwise freeze, compliments the Tibetan climate of extreme heat and cold. The third involves “capacity building and skills training to help the farmers learn to better manage their new businesses selling surplus organic vegetables.”

Focusing on Long-Term Efficiency

The Department of Home of the Central Tibetan Administration has taken an initiative to conduct training on sustainable agriculture development in Tibet. This will be done through modernization and market access combining Israeli agro-techniques. This training is aimed at improving crop production, collective marketing and community agribusiness management. The overall goal is to ensure that communities are well-informed about efficient agricultural practices, to benefit the communities in the long term.

Casey Geier
Photo: Pixabay