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Development aid projects in the Tibetan areas

The various aspects of development in the Tibetan areas outlined above are still only a theory built on observation of the present situation. For this to become a real "model" of development, at least some of the measures proposed above must be implemented on a small scale and tested regarding their feasibility. This will be done from summer 2013 on.

The Tibet Development Association will be founded shortly in Switzerland and will collect the funds necessary to carry out the activities described below. It is hoped that it will be able to collect CHF 20,000.- until the end of June 2013. The amounts necessary for the various activities are detailed below.

All these projects will focus on the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the south of Gansu province and the north of Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the north-west of Sichuan province; in this map of Tibet, it is the area between Hezuo in the south-west of Gansu province and Zoige in the north of Sichuan province.

Tibet: The owner of this restaurant did it without foreign help. He serves Tibetan food in small bungalows shaped like Tibetan tents.

The owner of this restaurant did it without foreign help. He serves Tibetan food in small bungalows shaped like Tibetan tents.

This area has recently seen a fast increase of Chinese tourism: it is located on the main road from Lanzhou to Chengdu and therefore easy to reach from any place in China, including through the public transportation system. A highway is currently under construction parallel to this road. The relatively low altitude of the region (between 3000 and 4000 meters, in yellow on the map below) makes it quite attractive for people who are not used to the thin air of higher regions. What is more, it offers an alternation of high plains and relatively gentle-sloped mountains which is perfect for tourism. It is marked on the map with a red rectangle.

Focusing on low-income families and people

All the projects mentioned here are entirely focused on low-income families. As mentioned above, the revenue from agriculture and herding has increased in recent times. Therefore, the top priority is to help Tibetans who, for one reason or another, have lost their revenue form agriculture or never had any. They are most interested in expanding their activities into trade and tourism.

On the other hand, the revenue of farmers and herders is very often not enough to offer a decent standard of living. Some of their family members are therefore the second group of people interested in the projects outlined here.

In the field of education and tourism, monks are a third group. If for example a monastery has been able to open a hotel, this does not mean that it has become "rich". The monks rely mostly on subsidies from their families; handouts from the state are far from sufficient for living. If a monastery gets additional sources of income, this will not only improve the lives of the monks, it will also make the lives of their families easier.

Helping small shops to get access to major wholesale companies

Food shops and small supermarkets play a major role in the development of other trading activities. What is more, the income they generate is widely distributed among the population, and it is a first choice for families who have lost the income from farming and herding for various reasons. Helping locals to start such businesses and to get a decent income from it is therefore key to the whole development process.

The first concrete project will consist in organizing a wholesale-retail relationship for food shops and small supermarkets on the road between Lanzhou and Zoige. Major wholesale companies offer the lowest prices, but they sell only whole truckloads consisting of entire pallets of each product. For small shops to benefit from their goods, orders from a dozen shops or more have to be organized in such a way that one weekly delivery covers most of their needs. The start-up capital for the first truckload will be provided by the association and is estimated at CHF 5000.-. The website necessary to organize the orders will be developed without costs by the author of the present text.

Testing and demonstrating the use of thermic insulation

With the help of a local building contractor, the use of outside thermic insulation panels will be demonstrated on a small residential house and, if this test is conclusive, on a small hotel. The cost is estimated at CHF 500.- for the residential house and at CHF 2500.- for the hotel. The purpose is to improve the living comfort in winter and to reduce the energy necessary for heating. In the case of the hotel, this would allow it to remain open for guests in winter. Since the staff is present the whole year round, this would provide additional income without increasing the costs. In spring and autumn, the insulation would improve the comfort for the guests.

Testing and documenting trekking and mountain bike activities for tourists

In the region around Langmusi, several trekking and biking tours will be tested and documented for tourists. This will allow the partners of this project to offer tourism information and to get some additional revenue by renting bikes. The capital necessary for buying the bikes and the necessary protection gear is estimated at CHF 2000.-.

Providing zero interest loans to new shops

Many Tibetans with the necessary experience in retail trade would like to open their own shop, but they cannot find the necessary capital. Direct contact with beneficiaries of loans provided by the association will provide a deep insight into the problems they might face in the initial phase. CHF 10,000.- are necessary.

Interest-free loans versus commercial loans

All the projects outlined above will have one guiding principle: the funds collected by the association will be provided in the form of interest-free loans; the oversight will be provided by local monasteries. The pay-back will be negotiated according to the expected income and can be adjusted once business has actually started. The purpose is to explore the possibility of large-scale investment into the Tibetan areas. Donations cannot even come close to covering the huge need in start-up capital and will therefore never make a real difference at the scale of the whole Tibetan population.

Once the income generated by zero-interest loans and the percentage of failing businesses is known, the potential for profitable loans can be estimated. It is expected that the supervision by local monasteries can notably reduce the percentage of failures.

Collecting the funds

The necessary funds will be collected in several ways:

  • Crowd-funding on Internet
  • Direct contacts with Western companies which are active in the relevant economic sectors: retail and wholesale trade, building contractors, tourism, trekking, biking, etc.
  • Public conferences organized by associations having some relationship with China
  • Direct personal contacts

It is of course difficult to estimate what amount can be collected until June 2013. Therefore, every donation is welcome!