Feature: "Dr. Barley's" legacy endures on Tibet plateau

LHASA, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Dawa Toinzhub's life would have been very different if he had not written to Nyima Zhaxi for help, explaining that his family was too poor to afford his education.

"We have set up a barley research team in recent years and have an urgent need for professionals like you. I'll cover your tuition. Don't worry, get on with your studies," Nyima Zhaxi, dean of the Tibet Academy of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Sciences (TAAAS), wrote in his reply to the then stranger.

In the following three years, Nyima Zhaxi kept his promise. Dawa Toinzhub finished his post-graduate studies in 2009 and has been working at the agricultural academy since then.

Nyima Zhaxi, known as "Dr. Barley" for his remarkable contributions to barley development and research in China, had many such selfless stories. He died on Sept. 5 in a car accident at the age of 55 during a work trip in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.


Barley is the staple food of the Tibetan people, and improving its yield is of great importance to local people, as well as increasing farmers' income.

Born and raised in a farmer's family, Nyima Zhaxi devoted himself to agriculture from a young age. He graduated from an agricultural university in 1985 and pursued further studies abroad. In 1999, he returned with a doctorate and started working at the TAAAS.

According to his colleagues, Nyima Zhaxi spent much of his time working in experimental fields or with farmers in their fields.

"No one can compare with him in terms of the persistence and devotion to the cause of barley," said 56-year-old Yu Dailin, a member of his barley research team at the academy.

Nyima Zhaxi started building a team in 2004 and undertook many projects in studies of the barley plant, such as gene sequencing, along with the first batch of doctorate scholars who returned from overseas in 2010.

In 2013, Nyima Zhaxi traveled across 28 main crop-producing counties in Tibet to offer technical guidance.

"To me, he felt like a completely normal farmer," said Dawa Toinzhub, a farmer in Jinga village in the city of Xigaze, "He knew everything about farming techniques."

Dawa Toinzhub later became one of the first groups of people who planted the new barley variety Nyima Zhaxi was promoting in the village.

According to Du Jie, head of the regional agriculture and rural affairs, the new varieties of barley developed by Nyima Zhaxi's team account for over 50 percent of the total plant area in the region, with over 545,000 hectares planted in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.


Colleagues describe Nyima Zhaxi as someone without a bureaucratic attitude. He was never a "distant academic authority in agriculture and animal husbandry" but was more like a "strict teacher and kind mentor" or "candid friend."

"He cared most about people who focussed on getting work done, regardless of their age or ethnicity," said Yu.

Nyima Zhaxi was also that type of person. Bao Shenghua, one of his colleagues, said: "He knew about all the experimental fields without looking at their labels, such as which variety is grown there and which has not been watered."

Sometimes he forgot to have meals when discussing work with township and village officials who frequently visited him for farming guidance.

"I hardly saw him have any meal on time," said Degyi Qoezhoen, an employee at the academy.

In a memorial article for Nyima Zhaxi online, someone wrote: "You don't have to worry about hunger. As long as there is a seed left on the plateau, we will grow it to feed the hardworking people of this land. For the seed is soaked with your blood, your genes that have endured through the ages."