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ROKPA - Tibetan traditional medicine in Qinghai

Our support

We provided support to ROKPA for a project to conserve traditional Tibetan medicine, in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. This project will address this issue by training local people in the cultivation, sustainable harvesting and re-introduction of medicinal plants in three areas in Nangchen County, and the construction of a factory for processing plants into medicines.

We classified this as a social enterprise award. For more on our interest in "social enterprise", see this page.

Background to our partners

Nangchen County

The photos (all courtesy of ROKPA UK) show farmers at work ; inside a nomad tent ; nomads on the road ; a typical smallholder dwelling ; ROKPA staff teaching workers about medicinal roots ; and the Thang Kan Ka nursery site.

Nangchen County is in the south east of Qinghai, close to the borders with the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Sichuan Province. It has an area of about 11,500 sq km with a density of six inhabitants per sq km. The population is estimated at 70,000 of which 98% are ethnic Tibetan, one of the highest proportions of any county within the Tibetan plateau. Livelihoods are based primarily on agriculture and semi-nomadic grazing (35% and 65% of the population respectively). Most people have no stable income, with an economy of survival, and their only access to primary health care is located in small Tibetan and Chinese hospitals in the remote administrative town of Shonda.

ROKPA (see also here)

ROKPA - meaning 'help' in Tibetan - is an international charity, helping communities in need in the Tibetan areas of China, as well as Nepal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and elsewhere. They work to relieve hunger and poverty and supports education, health care, cultural and environmental projects.

Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM) is an ancient science with a complex and holistic approach to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. It is especially effective in remote rural areas, home to semi-nomadic Tibetans where doctors set up mobile consultations. It is, above all, affordable and accessible for poor communities, and in many areas the only option available to them.

The system of TTM supported by ROKPA uses remedies made exclusively from medicinal plants, most of which are native. Traditionally, Tibetan doctors harvested the medicinal plants in the mountains of the Tibetan plateau. They used to possess great wisdom in the art of collecting, so there was never a need to cultivate the plants as they had all they needed from nature.

However, the situation has changed dramatically in recent years with increased demand from Asian markets and international pharmaceutical companies. This has led to the over-exploitation of Tibetan medicinal plants and endangered not only the survival of some species and the balance of the Tibetan delicate ecosystem, but also the continuity of traditional medicine itself, a fundamental cornerstone of Tibetan culture.

This project will address this issue by training local people in the cultivation, sustainable harvesting and re-introduction of medicinal plants in three areas in Nangchen County, and the construction of a factory for processing plants into medicines. Our specific assistance is for the nursery area at Thang Kan Ka.

Outcomes and lessons

ROKPA reported in October 2014 that construction of the workers' accommodation at Thang Kang Ka had been completed in spring 2014 this is the part of the project that we have supported. Thang Kang Ka is the name of the nursery just on the outskirts of the county town of Nangchen, and is home to the second ROKPA nursery which is now in its second year of development. The nursery is developing well, with some medicinal and nutrition crops in production.

The photos (all courtesy of ROKPA UK) show the completed accommodation at Thang Kang Ka ; the workers and their grandson inside ; the extended family ; and nursery staff meeting with visiting ROKPA representatives to discuss progress.

The workers, a couple and their grandson, moved into the accommodation in early summer 2014. In typical rural Tibetan tradition, they cook, eat and sleep in one room, while using the remaining room for storage. Sometimes their two daughters and their extended families come to help with weeding.

Everyone involved with ROKPA is to be congratulated for the completion of this successful project, and we wish the nursery every success in its important work to conserve these high altitude endangered medicinal plants !

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This page was last updated on 13 June 2017.

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