New innovation improves the lives of Tibetan nomads

Updated 2017-07-23 12:06:52 Xinhua

For hundreds of years, Tibetan nomad women have had the daily chore of collecting the dung of cows and yaks to use as fuel for cooking and heating.

The back-breaking task begins at daybreak and it often takes three to four hours to fill the 10-kg basket they carry on their back.

As the basket gets heavier, they must gingerly bend down to pick up dung from the grass and carefully toss it over their shoulder into the basket. A loss of balance could result in the already collected dung falling out of the basket.

The task is traditionally reserved for women, as it is thought of as "tedious manual labor," but this is changing thanks to a new invention, a modified wheelbarrow with a pedal-operated fork that scoops up the dung and lifts it into the bucket.

Purang, a nomad living in Nagqu County in northern Tibet Autonomous Region, was eager to try out the bright orange wheelbarrow before his wife Sadruo had a turn.

After scooping up some dung with a fork at the front of the wheelbarrow, Purang stepped on the pedal at the back to lift the fork and toss the dung into the bucket.

"This will make collecting dung more efficient. My wife won't need to get up so early and can spend more time taking care of our parents and children," said Purang.

Trials in Tibetan areas of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces showed that the wheelbarrow is six times faster than collecting dung by hand, according to Wang Guanghui, the product's inventor, who is also a professor at the College of Engineering at China Agricultural University.

While conducting a summer research program in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province in 2011, he was touched by the repetitive hard work undertaken by local Tibetan women and came up with the idea of inventing the wheelbarrow.

"Their backs become bent from the daily chore. But without collecting dung, their families have no chance of survival," said Wang.

Over the last six years, Wang has revised his design eight times to best suit the needs of the nomads.

One of the biggest concerns for both Wang and Purang was maintenance.

Except for the motorcycles some men now use in place of horses to herd their livestock, nomads rarely use any machinery and have limited mechanical knowledge. As their temporary settlements move with the seasons, they have limited access to repair shops in nearby townships.

Purang previously had an iron trolley but it became useless after a year as he couldn't find a repair shop to fix its damaged tire and replace rusty screws.

To prevent the plastic wheelbarrow ending up the same way, Wang visited nomad settlements to test many different samples of his product.

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