In Tibetan settlements in India, agriculture and sweater selling are the two primary livelihoods with approximately 25% of the population linked to farming and 49% to the seasonal sweater business. The rest of the population are engaged in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) or employed in other sectors.
There is also significant unemployment and under employment in the community as many Tibetans either lack the qualification for high paying jobs or opt against applying for lower paying employment opportunities. The 12 largest agricultural settlements in India, primarily in the state of Karnataka, have approximately 17,853 acres of agricultural land leased to the CTA by the government of India. Agriculture, however, generates only around 8% of the income in the settlement populations. Whereas sweater selling accounts for 41% of household income.
The migration of Tibetan refugees from the settlements to urban areas of India and Nepal and to overseas represents the most significant economic development as a growing number of Tibetans, particularly the youth, see less of a future in the settlements.
FIVE PRIMARY CHALLENGES
- Migration. The growing outward migration of Tibetans from settlements to urban areas of India and Nepal and to overseas is hollowing out many of the settlements. The working age and the educated are migrating, leaving behind the youngest and oldest members.
- Lack of a settlement resilience strategy. The CTA must counter this “pull” of migration by developing a more cohesive and long-term strategy to sustain some of the settlements. Through such a strategy people will have more reason to stay and those that have left can be encouraged to keep their ties and invest in their settlements.
- Challenges to one of the main sources of livelihood. The sweater selling enterprise, while very important for the economic resilience of the Tibetan community in India, faces some major challenges. The business model and way of doing business has essentially remained unchanged in sixty years. Younger generation is less interested in taking up this trade. There is also increasing competition from Indians who have entered into this business.
- Outdated agricultural practices. Agriculture practiced in the settlements is very small scale, inefficient, low-tech and low margin. Land ownership and use is highly fragmented. As a result, most of the land is unused or not used properly. Serious and progressive farmers are therefore unable to expand the agricultural sector and transform it into a profitable business.
- Lack of access to capital and financial literacy. The community lacks access to affordable capital, financial products and services and overall financial literacy particularly for MSMEs, farmers and sweater sellers. An entity that can provide both strong financial products and services will fill an important gap and could catalyze economic development in the community and ensure long-term financial resilience.
- Vocational education and skills training needs to be mainstreamed so that Tibetan youth have employable skills and can find better jobs or start their own businesses.
- The Department of Education needs to strengthen its counseling program so that students and youth are provided with good quality career development guidance.
- There are many idle assets such as land and infrastructure. A plan is needed to put these assets to more productive use and to monetise them.
- Some of the more sparsely populated settlements may have to undergo consolidation. The available land could be converted into business and educational ventures involving the CTA in joint ventures with partners from within and outside the community.
- Growing global interest in Tibetan Buddhist culture offers the community an opportunity to move to new areas of economic activity and be less dependent on agriculture and sweater selling.
- The host Indian economy has been one of the fastest growing in the world over the last decade with annual growth rate over 7%. An expanded middle class with disposable income is looking for products and services. The Tibetan community both in exile and in diaspora needs to tap into the growing Indian market.
- A better approach is needed in the management and development of Tibetan settlements. The new approach must address economic and social issues, integrate technology and also sustainability principles related to environment, water and climate.
KAYDOR’S FIVE INITIATIVES
1. Formalisation of the Tibetan Sweater Selling Trade. Tibetan sweater sellers will be encouraged and provided support to formalize and upgrade core aspects of their business model so as to minimize risk, extend season and maximise profits. A comprehensive assessment will be done in collaboration with the Tibetan Refugee Traders Association (TRTA) and a strategy will be developed.
2. Public Private Partnerships. The CTA will work in collaboration with the different entities in the community to address the long-term economic resilience of the Tibetan community. Partners are needed. The CTA will explore relationships with entities like the TRTA, Tibetan Chamber of Commerce, FTCI and some of the larger monasteries. CTA will work towards strengthening these organizations and providing support and in return these organizations would have to shoulder some of the responsibility for ensuring overall economic and cultural resilience of the community.
3. Ecotourism. “Experience Tibet” circuit will be launched in some of the settlements. This sustainable ecotourism program will enable the Tibetan community to position itself and capture a share of the growing tourism industry in India. The settlements will offer tourists and students of Buddhism scenic and remote locations, an opportunity to learn about Tibetan culture, history, art, architecture, medicine and a chance to purchase Tibetan handicrafts, medicine, food and art. The CTA will undertake a study on the investment and support required, invite partners to participate, and design a program.
4. Access to finance and financial literacy. The establishment of Gangjong Development Finance (GDF) as a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) by the 15th Kashag was a much-needed initiative. GDF will be further strengthened so that it can become a strong NBFC and eventually a Small Finance Bank. Major effort will be made to strengthen GDF’s vision, business strategy and internal controls. A strong management team will be put in place. The Tibetan credit market is estimated to be a INR 1,000 crore ($143m) market. Additional opportunities exist in terms of remittances from abroad and serving communities surrounding Tibetan settlements.
5. Smart Settlements. In order to align the development of settlements to the Five-Fifty Vision, a pilot project will be launched to convert four existing settlements into Smart Settlements in India. A smart settlement will take a holistic view towards meeting the socioeconomic needs of the community. It will take a different approach to agriculture, leverage the unique Tibetan cultural strengths, involve the youth and integrate technology. It will involve the active participation of different stakeholders in the planning and designing process.