Forty-year-old Zhaxi Toinzhub never realized that by growing vegetables in plastic houses he would have one of the fastest growing purses in rural western China.
A peasant living in Bainang County of Xigaze in Tibet, Zhaxi Toinzhub and four other family members used to grow highland barley and make less than 2,000 yuan a year, but now, the whole family earns an annual salary of about 18,000 yuan simply by growing vegetables in plastic houses.
"I have three plastic houses, growing green peppers, potatoes, and cucumbers. Each plastic house will make us about 3,000 yuan a season, and we have two seasons a year," he said.
Of course, it is a gross exaggeration to call Tibetan herdsmen China's "new-rich", but a recent government report said the income growth of the rural population in Tibet is faster than anywhere else in China's vast western regions, which includes 11 provinces and municipalities.
Statistics show that the per capita income of Tibetan herders and farmers reached 2,350 yuan in 2006, up 13.1 percent on the previous year, maintaining a double-digit growth rate for four consecutive years.
"The income growth rate of the rural population in Tibet is among the leading growth rates in China, if not the fastest," said Zheng Changde, a professor with Southwest University of Nationalities who has been involved in compiling a comprehensive report on the social economic development of rural western China.
There are about 2.3 million herdsmen and farmers in Tibet, making up more than 80 percent of the total population. Zheng's report said their per capita income is higher than that of the rural population in Shaanxi, Gansu, Yunnan, and Guizhou in western China.
Figures from the agriculture and husbandry department of Tibet show that from 2004 to 2006, 804 million yuan was invested in the development of different sorts of agricultural or husbandry programs. By joining the programs, each herder or farmer's annual income has increased by 600 to 800 yuan.
Besides, the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and the development of the service industry are also believed to have greatly contributed to the rapid income rise.
However, Zheng Changde admitted that the faster growth rate should be partly attributed to a relatively low starting point.
In the 11th Five-year Plan (2006-2010), China's central government will invest more than 100 billion yuan in 180 projects in Tibet. The projects, covering infrastructure construction, education, social security and environmental conservation, are designed to continue to promote economic and social development.
Zhang Yijiong, deputy Party secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region, has promised the region will follow a modern agricultural development path with highland characteristics, and will maintain a rural per capital income growth rate of more than 13 percent this year, and the net income of rural population will reach 2,660 yuan.
(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2007)