Monthly Archives

July 2019

International

Meghalaya Cabinet approves draft water policy

The Meghalaya Cabinet has approved a draft water policy to address water usages, issues of conservation and protection of water sources in the state.

Chaired by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, the cabinet on Friday discussed at length the various aspects of the policy before approving the draft policy, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong said.

“All issues related to utilization of water and livelihood and how to preserve water bodies have been outlined in this policy including community participation in the implementation of this policy by constituting a water sanitation village council at the village level,” Tynsong said.

The policy was drafted by the state Water Resources department in consultation with experts in water conservation and protection of water bodies.

The deputy chief minister said that Meghalaya being a hilly state, receives a lot of rainfall but the same water cannot be retained and all water reach Bangladesh in no time.

Among the other issues discussed on the policy was the need to optimize usage and conservation of water, steps needed to protect water bodies and water sources including ground water and protection of catchment and springshed areas.

Recently, the state government has launched the Jal Shakti mission to address the problems related to water.

The state cabinet has also approved the proposal of the Finance department to hike the salary of chairman and members of the Meghalaya Public Service Commission based on the recommendations of the fifth Meghalaya Pay Commission.

Water Mission

The Water Resources Department is implementing one new initiative which is the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme (IWRMP) which covers the activities under the Water Mission under the aegis of the IBDLP through the Meghalaya Water Resources Development Agency (MeWDA). This Programme is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of the eco-system. Under this Programme, activities for management and maximum utilization of the available water resources through the implementation of water harvesting structures, Jalkunds and Multipurpose Reservoirs are being taken up. Further, other Programmes relating to water quality, capacity building and awareness, monitoring and evaluation of projects, policy and regulation have also been initiated.

Activities under the Mission

Briefly the present status of the different activities and Programme taken up under the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme is as follows:

Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs)

During March 2013, an amount of Rs. 29.15 crores was sanctioned under Special Plan Assistance for development of Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs). Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) are water bodies created in a cascade that will cater to the different water needs of the community. It may be mentioned that the Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) will have the following components:

  1. Structural components having a combination of components for different uses such as Drinking & Domestic Water, Irrigation, Fisheries, Livestock, Micro hydel (< 100kw; where ever feasible) etc.
  2. Non-structural components like capacity building, institution building, Management Information System (MIS), monitoring & evaluation, entrepreneurial promotion, etc.
  3. Ancillary Components like water filtration, soil fertility testing, water testing kits, improvement of traditional sources, improvement of catchment areas, conveyance systems through canals and pipes, etc. Presently, the District Water Resources Councils (DWRCs) have been instructed to identify feasible sites for which this Programme can be taken up shortly. The consultant engaged to support the Meghalaya Water Mission is also helping out to carry this work forward.

Jalkunds/Water Harvesting structures

A total amount of Rs. 28.00 crores has been sanctioned for the construction of Jalkunds and Water Harvesting structures for which the funding is as shown below:

  1. Under Special Plan Assistance – Rs. 15.00 crores
  2. Under Special Central Assistance – Rs. 10.00 crores
  3. Under the State Plan – Rs. 3.00 crores Total – Rs. 28.00 crores
  4. Out of this available fund, Rs. 7.99 crores has been allotted to the 164 schemes as proposed by the Water Resources Department, while Rs. 10.00 crores has been sanctioned for 385 schemes proposed by Soil & Water Conservation Department. The schemes are being implemented through the District Water Resources Councils (DWRCs). In order to sensitize the public on the implementation of Jalkunds and Water Harvesting structures, capacity building Programme have been taken up in the 7 district head quarters. A separate Programme on this subject was also held at Mawkyrwat in collaboration with the Mawkyrwat Farmers’ Association. Officers from the MeWDA, the Water Resources Department and the Soil & Water Conservation Department were deputed as resource persons for the Programme. Further, it is also proposed to implement Roof Top Rain Water Harvesting projects in Government and School buildings, PHCs and CHCs and accordingly the District Water Resources Councils have been instructed to identify and submit proposals.

Capacity Building & Awareness Programme

MeWDA and Water Resources Department, in collaboration with Central Soil & Material Research Station (CSMRS), New Delhi, has organized Awareness Programme on the topic “Save Water , Save Earth” in Khliehriat & Tura. The Programme at Khliehriat was held on 17th May 2013 and 200 students from different schools in the district had participated. In Tura, the Programme was held on 21st May 2013 with 250 students participated in the Programme. Competitions were held and prizes were distributed to the winners. Apart from competitions, presentations relating to water were made by the resource persons from Central Soil & Material Research Station (CSMRS), New Delhi.

Investigation, Planning & Preparation of Water Resources Projects

MeWDA has procured 2 (two) nos. of Light weight reflectorless Total Stations for the Soil & Water Conservation Department, one each for the Garo Hills and Khasi-Jaintia Hills Circle amounting to Rs. 9.2 Lakhs. These instruments will help the Department to take up more survey & investigation works and also help in preparing Detailed Project Reports (DPRs).

Monitoring & Evaluation of projects

MeWDA through the Integrated Water Resources Management Programme has funded an amount of Rs. 13.77 Lakhs for engaging an agency for third party monitoring of projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), implemented by the Water Resources Department and Soil & Water Conservation Department. The work is under progress.

Others

Others MeWDA with the assistance of the engaged consultants are in the process of preparing two proposals for funding by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the creation of Multipurpose Reservoirs (MRs) in the State.

Chandan Kumar Duarah

International

Monsoon misery: Assam’s annual tryst with floods

If preventive measures are not taken immediately floods will cause more damage.

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra, east of Gauhati, India, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra. (Photo: AP)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excess monsoon rains
  • Brahmaputra carries a lot of water and sediments – another natural reason for floods
  • Destruction of wetlands and encroachment of plains have worsened the situation

It’s tucked away in the inside pages of national newspapers, rarely makes it to prime time TV bulletins, hardly finds mention in the national discourse on development…floods in Assam are an annual affair, rarely raising more than an eyebrow.

As sure as night follows day, floods in Assam (and in most parts of the Northeast) follow the monsoon. This year has been no different.

According to data put out by Assam State Disaster Management Authority, till July 18 the death toll has touched 27 and is likely to go up. Over 4,000 villages in 28 districts out of the state’s 33 have been affected.

Assam’s population is just over 3 crore; of this 53.5 lakh-plus people are under threat. While close to 1,000 houses have been damaged, 88 animals have been washed away. Over 16 lakh animals, including livestock have been affected. Pictures of rhinos trying to reach higher grounds at the Kaziranga National Park surfaced on Thursday.

(Photo: Reuters)

Over 2 lakh hectares of crop land have been affected by the flood waters. Infrastructure — roads, bridges, culverts – and public utilities have also taken a hit.

Floods lead to loss in human lives and the economy takes a big hit. According to Central Water Commission data (1953-2016) on average 26 lakh people are affected every year in Assam; 47 lose lives, 10,961 cattle die, Rs 7 crore worth of houses destroyed and the total damage comes up to Rs 128 crore every year.

Why is Assam flood-prone?

There are both natural and man-made causes for the annual deluge.

Most of Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excessive rain during the monsoon season. According to the Brahmaputra Board, a central body under the Ministry of Jal Shakti tasked to monitor and control floods, the region receives rainfall “ranging from 248 cm to 635…Rainfall of more than 40 mm in an hour is frequent and around 70 mm per hour is also not uncommon”. There have been occasions when 500 mm of rainfall has been recorded in a day.

The valley through which the Brahmaputra flows is narrow. While the river occupies 6-10 km, there are forest covers on either side. The remaining area is inhabited and farming is conducted in the low-lying areas. Overflowing rivers and flowing rapidly down the valley tend to spill over when it reaches the narrow strips.

(Photo: AP)

The zone’s topography also complicates matters. The steep slopes force the rivers to gush down to the plains.

Assam lies in a seismic zone — in fact most of the Northeast does. Frequent earthquakes and resultant landslides push soil and debris into the rivers. This sedimentation raises river beds.

According to a paper published in the International Journal for Scientific Research and Development, “Brahmaputra water contains more sediments raising river by 3 metres in some places and reducing the water carrying capacity of the river.”

Then there are man-made causes that have worsened the flood situation. Encroachment is a big issue. The population density of Brahmaputra valley was 9-29 people per sq km in 1940-41; this shot up to 200 people per sq km now, according Brahmaputra Board.

The systematic destruction of wetlands and water bodies that act as natural run-offs have aggravated the flood problem in Assam. Though embankments provide protection, most of them have not been maintained leading to breaches.

Is there a way out?

First and foremost is the need for early warning systems. There are reports that around the Assam-Bhutan border, villagers form WhatsApp groups to warn people of rising water levels.

If such people-people arrangements can work out then there is no reason why more institutionalised systems, based on technology, cannot be put in place.

(Photo: AP)

These early warning systems should be institutionalised based on scientific approach.

Wetlands and local water bodies should be revived so that the natural drainage system can act as a basin for excess water to flow. This would entail clearing human encroachments in the Brahmaputra flood plains.

Embankments should be regularly checked for breaches and systems put in place for maintenance; a first step would be to break the babu-contractor nexus that finds floods an easy way to sponge money from the system. (India Today)

Environment

Weather anomalies in Tibet pose challenge to agriculture: experts

LHASA = The unusually hot and dry weather in Tibet since June has posed new challenges to agriculture, climate experts said.

Sustained heat and little rainfall dried soil and limited the growth of vegetation, particularly in Lhasa, Nagqu and Xigaze, the Tibet regional climate center said.

The water surface of the Yarlung Zangbo River and Lhasa River shrank slightly compared to the same period last year, it said.

Local authorities have been reminded to make preparations for possible drought and step up monitoring of fires, crop diseases and pests, said Wang Xufeng, a researcher with the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

June’s average temperature in the Tibet Autonomous Region was 1.3 degrees Celsius higher than the previous average, with record highs seen in several cities.

On June 24, the temperature in Gyaca, under the jurisdiction of Shannan, soared to 32.6 degrees.

Regional capital Lhasa, which is a generally cool place 3,650 meters above sea level, embraced summer for the first time on June 23 since meteorological data was first collected in 1981.

Moreover, the region entered the rainy season on July 4, 27 days later than previous years.

Such weather anomalies have more negative impacts on agricultural production than positive ones, experts said.

With the highest elevation in the world’s mid-latitude region, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is very sensitive to the impact of global warming, said Kang Shichang, director of the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science of the CAS.

This year’s weather is an anomaly, and the long-term trend remains that the plateau is getting warmer and wetter, he said. (Xinhua)

Climate Change, Environment

Cloudburst in Arunachal; tourists stranded in flash flood, road closed

 

A calamitous cloudburst leading to massive rainfall and flash flood has made disaster in destrying many houses, bridges and roads in Tenga, Arunachal Pradesh.

Several hundred people were reported to be stranded while many others were missing in the flash flood which left a trail of devastation at Kaspi Nala near Nag-Mandir Tenga in West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh on Monday evening.

An RCC Bridge between Kaspi and Nagmandir has been washed away by floodwater.

The Army and paramilitary forces along with disaster management authorities have been deployed to rescue the victims.

Meanwhile, the West Kameng district administration has closed the Bhalukpong to Tawang  road.

The cloudburst triggered the flash flood on the evening of Monday, damaging over four houses, one boys’ hostel and one hilly restaurant along with several vehicles and motorcycles, according to tourists witnessed.

Earlier in the month of April, Bomdila, the headquarters of West Kameng district experienced cloudburst causing widespread damages to the places in proximity of the township.

The cloudburst was followed by torrential rain and hailstorm which created havoc in the township. According to Chandan Kumar Duarah, a science journalist says the cloudbust and flash flood attributed to massive deforestation, soil cutting in the region and climate change.

The rain lashed the district headquarters for over an hour resulting in chocking of drains and spread of debris all around.

At least 800 people were reported to be stranded while many others were missing in the flash flood which left a trail of devastation at Tenga in West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh on Monday evening.

The Army and paramilitary forces along with disaster management authorities have been deployed to rescue the victims.

The cloudburst was followed by torrential rain and hailstorm which created havoc in the township.

The rain lashed the district headquarters for over an hour resulting in chocking of drains and spread of debris all around.

International

Orban and Aung San Suu Kyi Gave in to Hate the Same Way

BY AZEEM IBRAHIM 

The two Oxford-educated leaders once preached liberal values—but found bigotry more convenient.

Aung San Suu Kyi with Viktor Orban in Budapest on June 5.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy activism and her resilience in advocating for the cause of democracy in the face of terrible repression by the socialist military junta of Myanmar.

Around the same time, a young Viktor Orban was feted as one of Europe’s future democratic leaders after playing an instrumental role in Hungary’s post-communist transition to democracy. Had the field been less crowded in Europe, Orban could well have been nominated for the same honor as Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the same reasons.Trending Articles

Back then, you would have expected the fellow University of Oxford graduates to have a lot in common. Alas, the two also have much in common today—just all the wrong things. A summit between the two on June 5 epitomized the painful truth: On opposite sides of the earth, the two leaders have converged toward the same rejection of everything they once stood for.

Orban is reviled by many at the moment as the spiritual father of European right-wing populist illiberal democracy. He is a highly successful domestic politician who casts a long shadow over European politics and the West’s long-standing efforts for a peaceful and cohesive Europe under a liberal political and economic consensus.

He rose to power as a traditional center-right Christian democrat, in the mold of the German center-right Christian Democratic Union of Angela Merkel. But in the face of weak opposition from the center-left in Hungary and a threat from the more nationalistic, hard-right Jobbik party, he tacked right. And hard. Jobbik still exists in Hungary, but the erstwhile hard-right alternative is now positioning itself as a more centrist rival to Orban’s Fidesz party.

Meanwhile, Orban and his allies have captured virtually all the mainstream media in Hungary. The 2010 electoral returns gave him a supermajority in parliament, enabling him to change the constitution to permanently entrench an electoral advantage for his party, as well as to weaken the judiciary and the Constitutional Court in the face of the executive.

These power grabs have developed alongside each other with a mutually reinforcing narrative of Hungarian ethnonationalist exceptionalism amid supposed permanent threats from external and internal enemies. The list of enemies is also highly predictable: Jews, most notably in the form of the boogeyman-in-chief, George Soros; Western liberals, under the heading of “Brussels”; Roma, derogatorily called Gypsiesnaturally; and Eastern Europe’s favorite historical antagonists, Muslims.

Orban’s path toward autocracy was voluntary—and driven at least in part by his need to shield himself from charges of corruption. Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power has been much less smooth and her turn toward oppression much more tragic. She spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s under house arrest in Myanmar, after her political movement, the National League for Democracy (NLD), posed a constant democratic threat to the entrenched political power of the military in her country.

Things came to a head after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when the shambolic response of the military government to the natural disaster it gave them so much authority that it had to concede to a constitutional change and a so-called managed transition to democracy.

It was now seen as inevitable that Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD would come to the political fore. What was not anticipated was the price that they would be willing to pay to come to power. The managed transition would mean that the military maintained full control of defense, security, foreign affairs, and strategic economic sectors—effectively all functions of the state that constitute its de jure but also de facto sovereignty—while the civilian government would be allotted the largest proportion of legislative seats to be democratically elected and would be given responsibility over areas of governance that did not interfere too much with the military’s interests and concerns.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD finally ascended to their allotted role within Myanmar’s new constitutional arrangements in 2014. This was hailed as a huge step forward for a country that had suffered under five decades of military rule, and the international community regarded it as inevitable that the country would move ever more toward the Western model of liberal democracy under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Then the 2017 Rohingya crisis happened, when the military proceeded with so-called clearing operations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the west of the country, ethnically cleansing over 1 million people and pushing them over the border to Bangladesh. Only about 300,000 Muslims remain in the region of their birth in western Myanmar, and over a third of them are effectively captive in refugee camps. Whether out of political expedience or personal conviction, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party backed the military against the Rohingya, whom they call “Bengali Muslims,” in this conflict. And to the shock of her erstwhile fans in the West, “The Lady” became a cheerleader for Islamophobia and ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar and Hungary also have some peculiar things in common. Hungary to the west and Myanmar to the east are both at the very historical periphery of the Muslim world at its greatest extent. Hungarian national identity has long defined itself around ideas of resistance, and with the Austrians and the Soviets no longer in the picture, nationalists have turned back to older stories of Christian resistance to Muslim Ottoman expansion into Europe. And similarly, Burmese national identity defines itself, more so now than perhaps in the past, in terms of Buddhist resistance to Mogul Muslim expansion into Southeast Asia.

All this is happening against the context of an emergent, U.S.-led global cultural awareness, which in the post-9/11 era has normalized Muslims as Public Enemy No. 1.

All this is happening against the context of an emergent, U.S.-led global cultural awareness, which in the post-9/11 era has normalized Muslims as Public Enemy No. 1.

 So if you are a national leader who is looking for scapegoats, for whatever reason, and you also have a national historical narrative deeply tied to the current global hate figures, “the Muslims” are a perfect target.

And so, when Aung San Suu Kyi and Orban finally met on June 5, their strangely parallel stories finally converged. Aung San Suu Kyi, the global pro-democracy and humanitarian icon fallen from grace, scraping around for any form of international recognition and prestige, ended up in the company of Europe’s most prominent outcast. Orban, once the bright hope of Europe’s future, was seeking solace after that slap in the face from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the rest of Europe from a woman who has not even begun to wash the Muslim blood off her hands.

These two tarnished icons, now spurned by disappointed humanitarians and former Western friendsbonded over their favorite far-right tropes such as the supposedly “continuously growing Muslim populations” in Myanmar and in Europe, the “fake news media,” and their beastly liberal critics.

In the final analysis, though, both have found their way to power. And both have found that decency, morality, ideals, and reputation were things they were willing to sacrifice to gain and hold on to power.

They both may have been ostracized from the democratic free world, but they both found new friends among the autocrats in Beijing for Aung San Suu Kyi and Moscow for Orban. And it turns out that there is a market out there for an Islamophobia International, which can be milked by both as a way to shore up the domestic base.

They are now, as they would have been in the early 1990s, kindred spirits. The problem, however, is that they are not alone. U.S. President Donald Trump is obviously a fan of Orban and his style of politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, whom Aung San Suu Kyi meets with often, has found much political mileage in pushing a Hindu supremacism and violence against India’s substantial Muslim minority. And the only reason Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro might feel excluded here is because he does not have many Muslims at hand to brutalize.

Just as they did in the 1920s and 1930s, the forces of religious and ethnonationalist supremacism are on the rise, and, for now at least, they can find common ground among themselves against supposed international and internationalist conspiracies of humanist equality and decency, as they seek to buttress one another’s international standing and protect themselves from domestic accountability for their corruption and failures of governance.

They sell the same snake oils: national pride, protection from imagined threats to the volk, Islamophobia and/or anti-Semitism where available, and so on. For the time being, at least, people seem to be buying. And as long as they are, amoral political profiteers who sold out their ideals like Orban and Aung San Suu Kyi will be there to sell.

Azeem Ibrahim is a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College and a director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington. He is the author of Radical Origins: Why We Are Losing the Battle Against Islamic Extremism and a former expert advisor to the U.K. government’s Commission for Countering Extremism.  Twitter: @azeemibrahimVIEW

Society

Tsampa: The Tibetan Cereal That Helped Spark An Uprising

On rare occasions as a kid, Renzin Yuthok and his family got to share a special breakfast. They’d gather around a table in their home in Bellevue, Wash., his dad would roll tsampa flour, butter and tea into balls called pa, and then he’d hand them out to his kids.

The meal served a symbolic purpose for Yuthok: “From a very young age, [Tibetans] are taught that … reclaiming our homeland … is what our highest aspiration could be,” he says. Yuthok’s family fled Tibet in the 1950s, but their breakfast — and its grounding ingredient, tsampa — kept him connected to that dream.

The word tsampa in Tibetan usually refers to ground-up, roasted barley flour, although occasionally the flour comes from wheat or another grain. It can be made into cereal, mashed into a poultice or mixed with yak butter and tea to make calorie-dense energy balls for long mountain treks (or breakfast treats for schoolkids). It’s tossed into the air at religious ceremonies and can be incorporated into wedding cakes. The Dalai Lama says he eats it for breakfast.

Thanks to its hardiness (it’s one of the few cereal crops that can survive on the high, arid and harsh Tibetan Plateau), barley has sustained the Tibetan population for thousands of years. Scientists say the cultivation of barley may have enabled ancient Tibetans to expand their civilization into the Himalayas. Researchers have found barley traces in 2,100-year-old remains of tea, which means it’s possible that tsampa was eaten during that time.

But over the last century, tsampa has become even more than a culturally significant staple food. It’s become a centerpiece of Tibetan identity and a tool of protest.

Calling all tsampa eaters

Between 1950 and 1951, China annexed the region of Tibet. Most Tibetans called the event an invasion, while the Chinese, in documents solidifying the annexation, called it a peaceful liberation (though it involved a bloody battle in the region of Chamdo).

Though Tibet’s rulers rejected Chinese claims to their territory, Tibetans had few sources of political unity back then. “Tibetans are diverse in language, custom, habits — there’s a lot of diversity within the single Tibetan group,” says Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian and associate professor at the University of British Columbia. So when the Chinese army entered the region in 1950, Tibetans initially lacked a unifying force.

Tsampa — which is eaten across Tibet — soon became that force. “When [Tibetan resistance leaders] were looking to unite [Tibetans] into a single identity, they adopted tsampa as a symbol,” Shakya says. In 1952, two years after the Chinese occupation began, The Tibet Mirror, an independent Tibetan language newspaper, published a letter calling for revolt. Its first call-out? Tsampa eaters:

“We, the tsampa eaters, chuba [traditional Tibetan outerwear] wearers, dice players, raw and dried meat eaters, followers of Buddhism, Tibetan language speakers…we must make the effort to end the [Chinese] occupation.”

Years later, in 1956, the Mirror again called out to “tsampa-eaters” to “unite your minds” and “stand up!” The Mirror’s exhortations were one of a series of events that led to what’s known today as the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetan protesters gathered in the streets of the capital city, Lhasa, calling for Tibet’s independence from China and later, mobilizing to fight the regime. The Dalai Lama fled the region during this time.

In an essay about this time period, Shakya writes, “If Buddhism provided the atom of Tibetanness, then tsampa provided the sub-particles of Tibetanness. The use of tsampa transcended dialect, sect, gender, and regionalism.”

This growing unity, coupled with support from anti-Communist countries like the U.S., was not enough for the relatively small Tibetan population to defeat the powerful Chinese army. They lost their fight for independence and are governed as part of Chinato this day. Thousands of Tibetans were killed during the 1959 uprising, and the Tibetan government-in-exile has estimated that the occupation led to the loss of 1.2 million lives.

Making a comeback

Since the 1950s, China’s incorporation of Tibet has fragmented tsampa’s place as the region’s staple grain, Yuthok says, partly because of an influx of Han Chinese who tend to prefer crops like wheat and rice.

Still, people in Tibet eat far more barley per person than nearly anywhere in the world. And tsampa’s importance to Tibetan identity and struggle has not diminished. If anything, it has been making a comeback.

Starting in 2008, a new wave of revolts began. In 2009, protesting monks cried, “Rise up, all tsampa-eating Tibetans!” In 2012, protesters ate tsampa and threw it up into the air during a mass prayer; at a different rally, according to a witness, monks were “chanting mantras and eating tsampa in protest.”

So important was tsampa to these protests that the modern-day Tibetan resistance movement often goes by another name online: The Tsampa Revolution, or #TsampaRevolution.

Tsampa has also found its way into Tibetan political music and youth culture. In 2012 the rapper Shapaley, who spent his childhood in Tibet, released a song called “Tsampa” on YouTube. The accompanying music video features the rapper sitting behind a bowl of tsampa, a traditional bag for storing the grain and a steaming cup of butter tea.

“Our parents gave us tsampa so we’ll give it to our kids / the Tibetan spirit will always remain,” Shapaley raps. “You can threaten us but we keep doing our thing … you can’t stop us!” At the end of the video he throws what looks like a cloud of tsampa into the air, in homage to the traditional sang-sol ceremony — or perhaps to the monks protesting in Tibet that same year, thousands of miles away.

A health food trend?

Yuthok, who was born in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. as a kid in the 1970s, is now working with his aunts Namlha and Tzesom as they try to spark another movement with tsampa in North America. Their company, Peak Sherpa, sells tsampa as a hot cereal and as “energy bites” — sort of a cross between an energy bar and the traditional pa. The cereal, I can attest, is delicious — the grains are smaller and denser than oatmeal, making for a pleasing nutty taste without the gluey texture of oats.

Because the barley used in tsampa doesn’t have to be heavily processed, it retains more nutrients, and the flour’s healthfulness rivals that of other ancient grains. Tsampa is high in fiber and essential minerals and it’s prebiotic, meaning it helps promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. It has a low glycemic index, which helps keep blood sugar from spiking. Plus, from a marketing perspective, it could be seen as one more in a line of Tibetan foods that have caught on with the health-food crowd — like goji berries and butter tea (reinvented as bulletproof coffee here in the U.S.).

So why has the Yuthoks’ company had a tough time breaking into the U.S. market? While they’re still relatively new, “it’s been really hard,” he admits. “I’d say we’re definitely a niche product at this point.” Though, he notes, “we definitely have our fans.”

Here’s what he suspects: Hot breakfast cereals are a highly competitive sector. Oats are nutritionally comparable to barley. And at only a few cents per serving, oats are much cheaper — and they’re nostalgia-inducing.

“People have a relationship with the Quaker guy, you know?” he says. “They love that guy, and what’s not to love?”

Additionally, American barley is not exactly easy to eat. Most barley grown here comes in a tough, inedible hull that’s difficult to remove, making it hard for food producers to create “whole grain” foods out of the original plant, unlike rice or wheat. Much of our barley is used to brew beer and other alcoholic beverages.

But that could very well shift soon. Tibetan barley lacks a tough outer hull, meaning it’s easy to thresh, like wheat — and that’s likely because of selective breeding by Tibetans over thousands of years, says Patrick Hayes, a professor of barley breeding and genetics at Oregon State University. Hayes is working on popularizing these Tibetan barley strains in the U.S. He plans to use them todevelop locally adapted varieties.

So far, so good. But Hayes is careful to acknowledge the true source of his current success. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this work without what [Tibetans] did over thousands of years.” If he ends up converting us all to barley, we will have tsampa eaters to thank.

BY Susie Neilson . The writer is an intern on NPR’s Science Desk. Follow her on Twitter: @susieneilson.