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Waking up to a new “superfood”

With state investment, a Chinese company aims for the high-end domestic and international markets with Tibetan yak milk, a drink richer (and costlier) than a cow’s. Tania Branigan reports.

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A pioneering Chinese company is to market pasteurised Tibetan yak milk in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, in the hope that it will become a new “superfood” in the world’s most populous country.

At 24 yuan (US$3.50) for a small, 250-millilitre carton, Feifan -- meaning “uncommonly good” -- costs several times as much as cow’s milk. “It’s very natural, green, pure and high-quality. That’s our big selling point -- we aim at the high-end market,” said Ding Pengcheng of the Treasure of the Plateau Yak Milk Company.

Over the next three years, the company is to spend millions to crack the domestic and international markets, with the help of Chinese state investment. Yaks produce fewer than 300 litres of milk a year, while cows yield 35 times as much. The company pays Tibetan farmers 16 yuan or more per litre, eight times the price of standard milk.

The Chinese Nutrition Society, a health ministry-backed research institute, says the amino acidscalcium and vitamin A in yak milk are considerably higher than in cow’s milk. Its appeal depends as much on the mystique of its origins as its nutritional qualities. Feifan is undergoing extra safety checks because of China’s recent milk contamination scandal. Yet, in the long run, such concerns could boost the desire for products that combine modern hygiene with unsullied, back-to-the-land imagery.

Tsering Droma is a typical Tibetan herder who now can look forward to tapping the Chinese market. Born into a herding family, she tends 30 yaks on steep slopes near the Karola pass.

The animals are central to Tibetan culture: their butter is melted into tea and fuels the lamps that light monasteries. Dung keeps fires burning; bones are carved into beads. Yaks provide Droma and her family with everything they need. “Female yaks are very important to us: we can get milk, make butter and cheese and get extra money by selling it,” she said. “For the males, they can be used for transport. We can sell the yak skins and the meat and hair. All the parts can be sold. Then we buy things like grain.”

But 160 kilometres away in Lhasa, the Treasure of the Plateau company is transforming this hand-to-mouth livelihood into a serious business. It is marketing the traditional staple as a superfood for aspirational middle-class households across China and beyond. Steam seeps from the pipes of its Tetrapak production line as it heats gallon after gallon of milk to 130º Celsius (266° Fahrenheit). In 2003, the company sold just over two million yuan (nearly US$300,000) worth of goods; this year it is on course to bring in up to 90 million yuan (nearly US$13.2 million). Each day the local market consumes between three and six tonnes of its yoghurt.

The company’s first batches of milk arrived in bowls, carried on herders’ backs, and often with the unwelcome additions of insects and yak hair. Now they come in clean containers, usually delivered by motorbike or car -- proof, says the company, that it is raising local incomes.

That does not make it immune from controversy surrounding economic development. Its expansion into markets around China would be all but impossible without the Tibet-Qinghai rail line, which critics say has damaged the environment and speeded the erosion of Tibetan culture. Seventy per cent of the company’s 110 staff members are Tibetan, but only a few are in senior posts. “Our company carries out a lot of training for our Tibetan staff, but most of them don’t have higher, college-level education,”Ding said.

At the least, the company -- and the government money behind it -- are supporting long-impoverished herders. The authorities have been heavily criticised for forcibly settling nomads. But this state investment is helping some to increase their incomes without having to abandon their heritage. It is what officials call “development with Tibetan characteristics”.

And yaks are as Tibetan as they come.

www.guardian.co.uk

Copyright Guardian News and Media Ltd. 2008


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“Superfoods”, touted as especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to human health, are attracting increased attention in a world where sustainability is a critical issue.

On our warming planet, populations are growing, the uses of arable land (food or fuel?) are at issue, water supplies can be precarious and the merits of genetically modified organisms in dispute.

Can superfoods make a significant impact, providing increased nutrition to more people, and helping to reduce the costs of health care? Are they worth the (sometimes) additional cost? Will they become luxury items for the few, or will the many be able to reap their benefits? Are you prepared to add new, even strange, foods to your diet? Yak milk, anyone?

Let us know on the forum what you think.
 

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

牦牛奶很不错:)

我喝过牦牛奶,味道就象你喝过的最浓的油脂牛奶一样好喝。对“超级食品”神经兮兮的人,我真确地推荐你们一试。

本评论由Ming Li翻译

yak milk is good :)

I've had yak milk before and it tastes like the most lovely thick and creamy cow milk you have ever had. I definitely recommend it to everyone nervous about trying "superfoods."

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

Shane

榨取了西藏宝贵的自然资源之后,藏民到底能获益多少?

Shane

How much can Tibetan get when their precious natural resource is milked out?

Translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

本新闻中的牦牛

一种食品这么多世纪以来养育了世界最遥远一端的人们,现在开始吸吸引更广泛的关注,难道这不奇怪吗?希望养牦牛的牧民获得公平的的价格,也对对市场交易满意,这样没人事后会感到受剥削。

我个人倒是愿意把牦牛奶留给小牦牛,自己还是坚持喝酸奶吧。--马蒂

本评论由Ming Li翻译

Yaks in the news

Isn't it odd how a food that has sustained people in one of the most remote parts of the world for so many centuries has now begun to interest a wider audience? Let's hope that the yak herders receive a fair price and be happy with the marketing deal, and that no one will end up feeling exploited.
I think I personally will leave the yak milk to baby yaks and stick to yogurt. -- Matty

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

高质却低产

“一头牦牛的年产奶量不到300升,而奶牛的产奶量是它的35倍。该公司向西藏农牧民支付的收购价为每升16元或更高,八倍于普通牛奶。”我怀疑100年前奶牛的产奶量就和现在的牦牛差不多。客户定制(与非自然饮食)、给牛打荷尔蒙及其他药物加大了奶牛的出奶量。要将牦牛奶变成区域与全球消费的日用消费品需要更广的牧场、更多的净水(这两项中国已是极度短缺)及每头牦牛更高的出奶率。等到所说的这一切发生,牦牛奶只怕已不再是如此“可持续发展”或健康之奶了吧。
www.liquidassetdevelopment.com

本评论由Ming Li翻译

High quality in low yields

"Yaks produce fewer than 300 litres of milk a year, while cows yield 35 times as much. The company pays Tibetan farmers 16 yuan or more per litre, eight times the price of standard milk."

I doubt that one hundred years ago cows produced as much milk as they do today. Customized (and unnatural diets), hormone injections and other drugs boost dairy cow productivity. To turn yak milk into a regional and global commodity will require much more grazing land, clean water (China is already desperately short of these two items already) and much higher level of milk output per yak.

By the time all of this happens, yak milk will no longer be so "sustainable" or healthy.

Greg
www.liquidassetdevelopment.com

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

全球化这一拐,拐得好奇怪啊

今夏我到青海探访在那从事出色环保工作的藏族朋友。他们拿出了用牦牛奶做成的酸奶让我尝,绝对美味。可就算是他们,要找到这么个当地产的食品也是越来越难了,因为当地的市场已是国产或国外品牌的天下。除非有人能直接与牧民联系,要在当地的市场找到这样传统的本地食品已几不可能。在镇里的超市,实际上所有的东西都产自外地,甚至没有当地的奶产品---牛奶、酸奶是伊利和蒙牛产的(这是两大国产品牌),奶酪是澳洲或新西兰进口的。 我因此想到,与其瞄准高端的海外市场,还不如保护好当地的奶制品市场,则生活于城镇的藏人(数量正在增长)就能如以往那样继续享用牦牛奶,而当地的生产能力则可稳定地扩容。呀,就是有一个问题,这么个提议冒犯了“自由贸易”的条规。鉴于金融崩溃还在进行中,也许也该是时候反思反思这个条规了。 戴尔

本评论由Ming Li翻译

what a strange twist of globalization

This summer I was in Qinghai province, visiting some Tibetan friends who are doing wonderful environmental work there. They gave me some yogurt from yak milk, which was absolutely delicious. But even for them, such local food is increasingly difficult to find, as the local market is dominated by national or international brands. Unless one has direct connection with some herders, one cannot hardly find such traditional local food in the market. In the supermarket of the town, virtually everything is manufactured somewhere else, even no local dairy product --milk/yogurt by Yili and Mengniu (the two big national brand), cheese imported from Australia/New Zealand.

So I think instead of aiming for high-end market abroad, the better solution is to protect the local dairy market--so the urban Tibetans (which are growing in number) can continue drink yak milk as they used to, while the local manufacture capacity can be steadily built up.

Oops, just one problem, such a proposal violates the "free trade" doctrine. But given the ongoing financial meltdown, maybe it is time to rethink this doctrine as well.

Dale

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

111

牦牛奶作为西藏独有的产品,现在被开发出来,进行市场化运作.西方经济学中的比较优势理论,不正是适合于牦牛奶么.

因为出售牦牛奶,牧民提高了收入,有更多的精力和经济基础来继承和发扬西藏的文化和传统;而西藏以外地区的人们也能享用西藏特有的牦牛奶.

一举而两得.

文章中说"牦牛历来属于西藏".那么请问这位大英帝国的记者:茶树历来属于中国,19世纪时英国人将其种子偷运出境,你有没有写文章来替中国打抱不平?

二崬曹

111

The current developing and marketing of yak milk, an unique Tibetan product, conforms to the Theory of Comparative Advantage in western economics . Thanks to the sale of yak milk, the Tibetan herders boost their incomes, saving more energy and financial resources for promoting traditional Tibetan culture they inherit, while people outside Tibet get the chances to enjoy the unique yak milk. This is indeed a win-win method like killing two birds with one stone. this article claims that "yaks are as Tibetan as they come", then I would like to ask this reporter from Great British Empire a question: did you chivalrously write an article to defend Chinese grievances, in the same way that tea plants are "as Chinese as they come" even though the seeds were spirited out of China by Englishmen in the 19th century? by Er Dongcao

(Translated by Ming Li)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

两个担心

1、担心牦牛奶热销导致牦牛养殖量超过当地环境承载能力;
2、担心发展中当地人民的利益无法保障;

I have two concerns

My first concern is that production of yak breeding may go over the carrying capacity of the local environment due to the popular selling of yak milk;
The second concern is that interests of the local people during the development may not be guaranteed.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

同意7楼的

我去过西藏,喝过农牧民家自产的牦牛奶以及用牦牛奶做的酸奶,确实美味,比蒙牛伊利等大品牌的高端乳制品不知要好多少倍。牦牛奶面向高端市场,牦牛很有可能变成摇钱树,但高原环境承载能力有限,真担心最后高原环境也不健康了,牦牛也不健康了。所以发展这一超级食品,还是要审慎,要科学发展啊!

In agreement with #7

I've been to Tibet and I've drunk the home-made yak milk of the peasants and herdsmen, and also the yogurt made with yak milk. It's truly delicious - I don't know how many times better than the high-end dairy products of big brands like Mengniu and Yili. Yak milk is geared toward the high-end market and could very plausibly turn into a source of easy money. But the ability of the Tibetan Plateau's environment to make this sustainable is limited; I'm truly worried that ultimately the plateau's environment will turn unhealthy, and also that the yaks themselves will not be healthy. So, in developing this excellent food product, one must really be cautious - it must be developed scientifically!

Translated by Matt Waters

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

为什么我们一定要杀死牦牛?

"母牦牛对我们很重要:可以挤奶,做酥油和奶酪,并拿去卖钱。公牦牛可以用于运输。我们可以卖牦牛的皮、肉和毛,通身都能卖钱,然后买粮食等等。"

为什么我们一定要牛毛、牛肉、牛皮?为什么我们一定要杀死牦牛?如果说,真没有想到,连我们的西藏牧民都那么贪婪!

我希望政府能做好引导工作,请不要鼓励大量杀生!

Why are we so bent on killing yaks?

“Female yaks are very important to us: we can get milk, make butter and cheese and get extra money by selling it. For the males, they can be used for transport. We can sell the yak skins, meat and hair. All the parts can be sold, then we buy things like grain.”

We are so bent on getting yak hair, yak meat and yak hide, why? I just can't believe that even Tibetan herders are that greedy! I hope the government will be a good guide. Please, don't incite mass killings.

Translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

如果

如果这个产品是由一家民营公司……
如果这家公司是由藏族人经营……
如果它不是以“进军高端市场”为目的,而是以向本地人提供本地产的优质产品为目的……
如果它在能实现上述“如果”的同时,还能给当地人带来工作、带来较高的收入……
如果的如果,它还能赚钱……
只要是以上的“如果”,我会主动去消费这种产品,哪怕它24元一瓶,哪怕为了购买它我得费劲周折……

ehongbo

Only "if"

If this product is developed by a private-run company...if this company is run by Tibetans...if its goal is not to supply "high-end markets", but high quality local products for local people...if it could bring jobs and high earnings to local people whilst achieving the above "ifs"...and if it could still make a profit...only then will I promptly consume this product, even though it costs 24 yuan a bottle, even though I have to expend great effort to buy it...Ehongbo

Translated by Ming Li