Qinghai herders turn yak milk into cash cow

XINING-Yulrabgye, 24, a Tibetan herder from Qinghai province in northwestern China, once thought that yak milk had no use other than for making butter for his family's consumption.

He used to raise 20 yaks and sell their meat, and the milk they produced was barely enough for his own use. So Yulrabgye, who hails from Guinan county in the Hainan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, was surprised when he learned that his fellow villagers were trading their milk for cash.

A collection center set up by a local dairy was buying the milk, and agrotechnicians assigned by the company offered training to the herders on improving production. The company buys the yak milk before it's processed into dairy products.

In 2017, Yulrabgye decided to follow his fellow villagers. This year, he has earned 20,000 yuan ($3,100) through milk sales.

By working closely with dairy producers, the herders have turned yak milk into a cash cow on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

China has eradicated absolute poverty and is exerting great efforts toward rural vitalization.

The yak milk collection center, established in 2015 with the help of the local government, has encouraged some 280 households to sell their milk, said Tashi Dondrup, manager of the center.

"Almost every household in nearby villages raises yaks and sends their milk here now," Tashi said, adding that the milk industry has added 10,000 yuan on average to the annual income of each household.

Currently, there are 13 yak milk collection centers in the prefecture.

The collected milk is transferred to a dairy company in Gonghe county, which has dozens of yak milk powder production lines.

Padma Dorje, manager of the dairy company, said the new production lines have a daily processing capacity of 400 metric tons.

He added that the product is in great demand, as it is in short supply due to its superior quality.

"We plan to set up more yak milk collection centers to help generate more income for the herders," Padma said.

The company has strict collection procedures, which have prompted Yulrabgye to breed better quality yaks.

"Better breeds also lead to better yak meat," he said, adding that the village cooperative helps contact buyers and negotiate for better meat prices.

Xu Haidong, head of Gonghe's rural vitalization bureau, said the county government will make efforts to establish a township-level cooperative by combining the ones at the village level, to further improve the yak milk industry.