Translator Disclaimer
1 May 2007 Sustainable Rural Development in Mountainous Regions with a Focus on Agriculture in the Tibet Autonomous Region
Author Affiliations +

This volume contains the edited papers, attendant discussions, and a summary of the activities of an international conference held in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 26 to 30 July 2004. This conference, which was hosted in Lhasa by the Tibetan Academy of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Sciences, was the fourth in a series of conferences on poverty and development in the mountain regions of High Asia. The first of these took place in 1992, when experts met to discuss “Anti Poverty Experiences in China's Himalayan Region.” That conference was followed in 2000 by another in Kathmandu focusing on “Growth, Poverty Alleviation, and Sustainable Resource Management in the Mountain Areas of South Asia” (Banskota et al 2000) and a 2002 conference in Chengdu, Sichuan, PRC, on “Poverty Alleviation in the Mountainous Areas of China” (Jodha et al 2004).

The conference summarized in the book under review focused on the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as one of China's least developed regions. The book contains an introductory chapter in which the volume editors provide an overview of the entire conference's 5 sessions and conclude with 42 specific recommendations. It then presents 13 substantive chapters and a summary of the experiences of the personnel of aid agencies operating in the TAR.

The first session of the conference included several papers that defined the types and causes of poverty of the TAR. From the start, conference members emphasized that poverty is not simply economic deprivation, but also includes inadequate social, cultural, and ecological resources; hence, even “those who were rich economically might be socially and culturally or ecologically poor,” as noted in the introductory paper (p 4). Although absolute poverty, like inadequate food supplies, has declined significantly over the last 20 years in Tibet, as several of the papers demonstrate (eg income increased 5-fold, agricultural output 14-fold, manufacturing 17-fold, and revenue 30-fold between 1978 and 2002), large areas of Tibet retain problems like those found in remote parts of the entire Hindu Kush–Himalayan–Tibetan region: lack of employment opportunities, inadequate health care, lack of running water, absence of effective human waste disposal, and long walks to road access. Papers in this session include a description of the EU's Panam Integrated Rural Development Project (Kaiser and Dui), a general review of the 4 main production systems in Tibet and the extent of poverty and development within them (Tashi and Partap), an assessment of the differences between urban and rural regions in Tibet (Lu, Wang, and He), and an empirical study of incomes and lives in villages of the Shigatse and Lhasa areas (Goldstein).

The second session provided an overview of the attempts to alleviate poverty in other regions of China, as well as Nepal and Pakistan. These case studies describe development efforts in Mongolia (Wierer and Nyamdorj), assess the success of conservation efforts in the headwaters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers (Wang and Yang), evaluate the Agha Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan's Northern Areas and Chitral (Malik), and describe the results of opening Upper Mustang in farnorthern Nepal to high-end tourists in far northern Nepal (Banskota and Sharma).

The third session dealt with the challenges facing development efforts. The papers focus on improving the pastoral production system (Zhao and Chen), expanding agricultural and livestock exports to international markets (Tudeng and Huang), analyzing how to mitigate the impacts of globalization markets on Tibetans (Gyamtso), and suggesting national strategies for developing the TAR (Zhou).

The fourth session used the papers of earlier sessions to identify policies which would lead to sustainable development in the TAR. The recommendations are standard development rhetoric: Government officials must change their philosophy to promote improvements in social, cultural, ecological as well as economic conditions by creating new institutions which engage local people in participatory planning in order to facilitate self-help projects. These plans and projects must be compatible with local social, cultural, environmental, and technological conditions, but at the same time need to be designed to reduce rather than accentuate regional disparities and to keep rural people from emigrating to urban areas within and beyond the TAR.

The final session summarized the recommendations formulated by the conference participants. Of the recommendations, 24 were aimed at developing the TAR and alleviating poverty; 7 at coping with globalization while integrating into a market economy; 5 at narrowing urban–rural disparities; and 6 at strengthening institutional capacity for implementing development.

This book is strongest in its summary of statistical information about the TAR. With the exception of the chapters on the other regions of China and Hindu Kush–Himalaya, only the paper on the Panam project and Goldstein's paper seem to be based on extended fieldwork. A useful overview of the general situation in Tibet comes in the third paper by Tashi and Partap. I was irritated that the book contains no map of the TAR with its borders, cities, and regions.

The harsh environmental conditions of the TAR, the apparent scarcity of detailed knowledge about production systems, and the residual bureaucratic intransigence of government agencies all hinder development. Moreover, it will be difficult to balance the contradictions between opening to the global market and the need for government nurturing of TAR production of comparative advantage crops such as organic meat and medicinal plants. Similarly, promoting eco-cultural tourism at a time when traditional production systems are being modernized will present a challenge. This volume shows how Chinese and TAR officials and expatriate development agencies are searching for ways to overcome the biophysical and social restraints of the TAR, but also identifies the difficulties that inevitably accompany that task.



M. Banskota, T. S. Papola, and J. Richter . editors. 2000. Growth, Poverty Alleviation, and Sustainable Resource Management in the Mountain Areas of South Asia. Feldafing, Germany and Kathmandu, Nepal DSE [German Foundation for International Development] and ICIMOD. Google Scholar


N. S. Jodha, B. Bhadra, N. R. Khanal, and J. Richter . editors. 2004. Poverty Alleviation in Mountain Areas of China. Kathmandu, Nepal and Feldafing, Germany ICIMOD and InWEnt gGmbH (Capacity Building International). Google Scholar
John J. Metz "Sustainable Rural Development in Mountainous Regions with a Focus on Agriculture in the Tibet Autonomous Region," Mountain Research and Development 27(2), 185-186, (1 May 2007).
Published: 1 May 2007

Back to Top