Profile: Norbu Tenzin, Tibet’s master of tsampa - Economy & Society - Tibetol

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Profile: Norbu Tenzin, Tibet’s master of tsampa
By:Xinhua
update:October 08,2018
LHASA, Oct. 8, 2018 -- In Xigaze, the hometown of highland barley in southern Tibet, southwest China, Norbu Tenzin has been widely known as the master of tsampa.

Each year, the watermill he runs in Guire Village of Gadong Township, Bainang County generates a revenue of more than 40 million yuan.

With the Nyangqu River, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River, flowing by the biggest watermill in Tibet, Norbu Tenzin's factory processes more than 20,000 kilograms of highland barley flour each day.

About 68 percent of Bainang County's highland barley harvest goes to Norbu Tenzin's watermills every year.

With seven different flavors, his tsampa products have been exported to the U.S., India and Nepal.

The indigenous, cholesterol- and blood sugar-reducing barley is Tibet's major grain crop, accounting for 80 percent of total local crop acreage and output. Traditionally the crop is processed into tsampa, a staple food favored by Tibetans made of roasted barley flour, and a popular drink, barleywine.

As high-yield seeds of the crop have been planted by more farmers, Tibet's total highland barley output is expected to exceed 800,000 tonnes this year.

Donning a black Tibetan frock and wearing a brown hat, the 56-year-old with a sun-tanned complexion resembling barley grains has engaged in Tsampa processing for more than 20 years.

Naming his tsampa products after himself, Norbu Tenzin came up with the idea of building his own watermill when he became worried about his barley stockpile.

In the late 1990s, Norbu Tenzin had a stockpile of over 100,000 kilograms of barley grain.

"With no grain processing plants around and local breweries only purchased tiny portions, I fear they may go bad stored at my house," he said.

To cope with the situation, Norbu Tenzin had to travel 200 kilometers with roasted barley grains to Lhasa where he could grind the grains into tsampa, and then sold the tsampa at his two stores in Lhasa and Xigaze.

As transportation to Lhasa became increasingly costly, he decided in 1999 to build his own tsampa mill, learning cutting-edge watermill skills from the best craftsman in Lhasa and Xigaze.

"The knacks are making sure that water flows from high enough and finding the right rocks for millstones," he said.

Starting with four water mills, Norbu Tenzin has expanded his factory to house a total of 104 water mills.

A secret to his success, as he sees it, is the fertile land of Bainang County that yields 4.5 tonnes of barley per hectare. Each year, Norbu Tenzin offers a price that is 20 percent higher than market price to secure the supply of fine-quality highland barley.

As the business grows, Norbu Tenzin's two sons are poised to hop on board. Tashi Dondrup, a 29-year-old in a slim-cut suit with a trimmed goatee, works in the watermill plant.

Tashi Dondrup has just built another plant next to the watermill to house a new biscuit production line. He pays particular attention to food safety, insisting on the use of rigid sanitation standards "on par with operating rooms of hospitals."

"We want to make organic, healthy and diverse barley products available across China and the world," said Sonam Norbu, the youngest son of Norbu Tenzin. Enditem

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