W. Roder
Advisor, RNR-RC Jakar


Matching limited resources for research and development in the livestock sector with requirements given by the wide range of environmental conditions and production system is a major challenge for Bhutan. Yet, three decades of well-focused research and development activities have had substantial impact and increased total dry matter production, fodder quality during summer, fodder quality during winter and milk production by about 2, 5, 20, and 100%, respectively. Two annual, 13 perennial herbaceous and 3 tree fodder species were released and technologies generated for establishment, legume inoculation, P-management, winter fodder production and seed production. Technologies not adopted or research with in-conclusive results included: search for alternative P-sources, seed production for temperate legumes, optimum use of permanent grassland resources, introduction of exotic tree species, silo making and use of standing hay.  Factors imparting extension success included: target driven programmes, limited attention to socio-cultural problems and strong bias towards animal health.


Bhutan is a small country, with limited resources to invest in research and development of fodder resources. In spite of this, well-focused research and extension activities carried out during the last 3 decades have had a substantial impact on livestock production systems in the country. A detailed review on the research and extension activities and their impact was published recently (Roder et al. 2001). Until the mid-1990s fodder research and extension was mostly carried out under the Department of Animal Husbandry (AHD) and by various projects associated with this department. The first planned experimental activities with focus on fodder resource development were initiated in 1974. The Ministry of Agriculture was reorganised in 1995, when four RNR-RC’s were established. The Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre (RNR-RC) Jakar currently coordinates research activities in the livestock sector (including feed and fodder), which is located in the temperate region of central Bhutan.

In this paper only selected research and development activities are discussed with the objective to share our experiences with the participants of the TAPAFON network. Experiences are reviewed under 1) what research has contributed; 2) what technologies worked and why; 3) what technologies did not work and why and 4) what extension approach worked and why. Readers interested in a comprehensive review on research and development activities may consult Roder et al (2001).

What research has contributed – summary of selected results

Evaluation of native species: Thanks to the collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, the flora of Bhutan is systematically documented. The most important families leguminosea, grasses and sedges are completed (Noltie, 2000; Gierson and Long 1983), but more efforts are necessary to document the plant communities and ecological aspects of major grassland ecosystems. Of the local fodder species willow (Salix babylonica) and Ficus auriculata have received the most attention resulting in better integration of these two species in the respective farming systems.

Germplasm introduction and testing: From the mid 1970s, 75 grass species and 157 legume species have been introduced and evaluated. Under temperate conditions the highest yielding legume and grass species were: white clover (Trifolium repens), red clover (T. pratense), lucerne (Medicago sativa), and lotus (Lotus pedunculatus), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), and Italian rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) As a result of the germplasm introduction and testing activities 2 annual, 13 herbaceous perennial and 3 tree fodder species are currently recommended through the extension programme. 

Establishment:  Methods of establishment were developed for a range of environments and production systems (Dukpa et al. 1999; Roder et al. 2001). Transplanting of white clover was recommended as the cheapest and most successful method for the improvement of permanent grasslands. Transplanting of lotus and crown vetch (Coronilla varia) has also been recommended. Seeding into buckwheat has become the most widely practiced establishment method in higher elevation temperate areas where buckwheat is an important traditional crop. In other regions, maize and millet have been found to be the best options for establishing fodder species.

Inoculation of legumes: Effects of inoculation on various legume species were quantified and it was established inoculation is imperative for Trifolium, Medicago, Lotus, Melilotus and Lupine species. Pea and vicia species on the other hand do not require inoculation. Similarly, inoculation is less important for subtropical species as they are generally less specific in their requirements of a particular rhizobia strain.

P-effects:  Phosphorus availability strongly limits plant growth in temperate and alpine regions of Bhutan. The severity of this constraint was confirmed by soil tests and early field studies. Without the application of P, the introduction of white clover often failed completely. Depending on soil fertility and the management of the grassland, P application combined with the introduction of white clover increased the dry matter production by up to 30 times as compared to control plots.

P-sources: The effect of various P-fertilizers and other sources of P were investigated through a number of trials. Potential sources evaluated included rock-phosphates, ash (from burning blue pine needles), compost, blue pine needles and manure. Except for manure none of these alternative sources showed an effect on fodder yield.

Legume species and P-interactions: Low P-concentrations in the legume biomass and efficient P-extraction were expected to result in lower requirements of P. P-accumulation was found to be highest in sweet clover species (Melilotus alba and M. officinalis), lucerne, and hairy vetch. Species with low P-concentrations were lotus and hairy vetch. These findings, together with observations from screening nurseries and other trials, led to sweet clover, hairy vetch, and lucerne being recommended as alternative legumes with lower P requirement.

Package of practices for temperate regions: Combining findings generated through the various above activities a package of recommendations was developed including white clover grass mixture, establishment methods, fertilizer recommendations and management practices.

Winter fodder: Research directly addressing winter fodder problems included: a) Fodder conservation with drying racks and pit silos; b) Fodder conservation in the field; c) Arable fodder crops and d) Tree fodder species. The feasibility of keeping standing hay was evaluated by keeping grass/clover biomass in the field for grazing between December and February. Harvesting in February had no effect on the dry matter yield and the loss in quality was lower than the losses normally associated with hay or silage making. The method of grazing standing fodder during the dry winter period has the advantage of reducing labour requirements for harvesting, feeding, and manure transport. Crops that have received the most research attention were Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), swede (Brassica napus) hairy vetch, and rye (Secale cereale). Under temperate conditions, appreciable dry matter yields can be expected if these species are planted in late summer after the harvesting of potatoes.

Tree fodders: Willow and Ficus auriculata are the most studied of the tree fodders (Roder, 1992; Roder et al. 2002a; Wangdi et al. 1998). Laboratory and animal data confirmed that willow leaves have a high nutritional quality comparable to common forages such as lucerne and that they can be fed to ruminants without any adverse side effects.

Seed production: Seed production studies were carried out and suitable seed production techniques were developed for white clover, cocksfoot and greenleaf desmodium (Desmodium intortum) and stylo (Roder et al. 2002b).

What technologies worked and why

The farmers and herders with no or only minor contribution developed some of the technologies that contributed towards improving the fodder resources by the research system (Table 1). Of all the species introduced, white clover has undoubtedly had the most important impact by improving forage quality, increasing dry matter production and by adding nitrogen to the agriculture production system. It may be largely due to white clover, that the milk production in Bhutan has increased at the rate of about 3-5% per year over the past 20 years (Table 2).  The spectacular data on white clover naturalization show the huge benefits (and potential risks?) that can accrue through plant introduction. 

Table 1: Experiences and technologies, which worked in Bhutan and may be of interest for other countries in the region


Why it worked

Experiences and technologies generated by farmers and herders

Use of turnip and pumpkin for fodder

Easy storing, well adapted to prevailing conditions

Introduction of Napier

High yielding, wide range of adaptation, not dependent on seed supply

Experiences and technologies generated by research systems under the Royal Government of Bhutan

White clover for improving permanent grasslands

Easy spreading, adapted to heavy grazing, high quality.

Spreads through the grazing animal.

Introduction of exotic species for specific conditions

Systematic testing under local conditions

Provided with a package of recommendations for establishment, management and use.

Methods for establishing temperate fodder species

Developed in collaboration with farmers

Practical methods minimizing labour requirement and optimizing establishment success

Seed production systems for temperate species

Development of appropriate production techniques through research

Seed purchased by the Government at attractive price

Willow as a tree fodder for dairy systems with high milk production

Excellent qualities of willow

High dry matter production with no fertilizer inputs

Complements white clover to extend fodder availability into the dry season

Silvopastoral systems with white clover

High returns from timber but only after 2-3 decades

Fodder provides opportunities for immediate benefits

Clover reduces weed problems and improves soil fertility

Plantation systems using fodder peanut (Arachis pintoi).

High quality fodder occupying a niche not previously used

Reduces labour for weed management and improves soil fertility

Table 2: Changes in fodder and livestock production in Bhutan partially attributed to RGOB’s fodder development activities (from 1970-2000)

Component of the system

At national level

Selected pockets in temperate regions

Dry matter production increase (%)



Fodder quality increase during summer (%)



Fodder quality increase during winter (%)



Milk production increase (%)



Cattle migration (reduced %)



What technologies did not work and why

In two independent assessments carried out in 1989 and 1996 lack of rigorous priority setting was considered to be the main constraint to successful research in fodder resource development (Table 3).  This problem was partly attributed to a heavy dependence on outside funding and expertise. Other important limitations were related to human resources and poor progress in building up the capacities of human resources in subjects such as fodder agronomy and range management.

Table 3: Constraints to successful research in feed and fodder


Rank 1989

Rank 1996

Lack of focus and unrealistic identification of research needs



Insufficient academic background of research personnel



Insufficient interaction with farmers and herders and poor representation of target environments



Insufficient access to information

Not included


Insufficient research personnel



Wrong priorities



Most experimental activities are limited to on-station work



Lack of coordination with extension activities



Motivation of Bhutanese research personnel



Lack of funds



Lack of equipment



Too much dependence on expatriate advice



1Constraints ranked in declining order of importance (lowest number indicates most serious constraint)

Some of the research activities were not conclusive (Table 4) and some of the technologies released to the extension were not adopted by the farmers (Table 5). The reasons for non-adoption are many, but mostly because the technologies offered were not appropriate for the given conditions.

Table 4: Research efforts, which did not provide conclusive results


Reasons for inconclusive results?

Crop rotation

Difficult research methodologies requiring long-term trials

Studies initiated under projects with limited time frame

Search for alternative P-sources

None of the alternative sources were effective

There may be no alternatives to chemical fertilizer

Legume-P interactions, Legumes with low P-requirement

No follow up of initial studies

Seed production technologies for white clover, lucerne, lotus

Prevailing climatic conditions are not suitable for seed production of these species

Search for temperate grass

(Competition with white clover)

The species selected in the seventies may be the best option.

White clover competition is mostly influenced by grazing management and not by the choice of grass species

Extension approach what worked and what did not work

Desecribiton of Extension system

The Bhutanese government’s Animal Husbandry Department began to build up a network of extension centres in the 1970s. These centres were placed at geog level (subunit of district) and were generally staffed by technicians with basic veterinary training. Extension workers for fodder development, also known as pasture assistants, were trained from 1978 onwards and placed in these extension centres. After the reorganization of the training programme in 1995, the responsibility for all livestock-related extension activities were entrusted to extension workers placed at the geog level Their responsibilities covered health, general livestock management, and fodder resource development aspects.

What worked?

Combining Agriculture and Animal husbandry activities: Early success in fodder resource development was attributed to an extension system where agriculture and livestock extension were carried out by the same team (Roder et al. 2001).

Table 5: Research results and/or recommended technologies not adopted


Reasons for non-adoption

Transplanting of white clover

Seeds were provided free and farmers had no incentive to invest in labour

Use of extensive grassland for productive livestock production

Insufficient policy support

Paddy straw treatment

Technology may not be appropriate

Expected treatment effects on liver fluke may not be realistic

Grazing management

Change in management require collective changes in the cattle herding system

Socio-cultural problems were not addressed

Jerusalem artichokes

Fields planted with this species became a strong attraction to wild boar

Introduction of lucerne

Seed production in the country was not possible

Silo making

High labour required

Technology not appropriate unless the house hold has highly productive dairy cattle

Standing hay

Current cattle herding systems do not allow the storing of hay in the field

Exotic tree fodder species

Robina pesudoaccacia because of its thorns, Leucaena leucocephala because of its climatic limitations, psyllid problem and unrealistic management recommendations

Fodder specialists: For over a decade, fodder specialists placed at the geog or district level carried out the fodder extension. Relatively good results were achieved under this system.

Mixed results

Integration: The integration has created opportunities for a more holistic approach. These advantages were largely negated by too high expectations from the system and the removal of fodder specialists. The integrated approach may only be feasible if specialists for fields such as fodder agronomy; rangeland management and animal nutrition are available at the district level.

Subsidies: Subsidies have been provided for various inputs including fertilizer, tree saplings and seed. The current system of giving full subsidy for seed used is seen as a detriment for an optimal use of the seed as well as the overall progress in fodder resource development. Best results with fodder development were achieved in the early phase when farmers were made to pay at least 10% of the seed cost. Subsidies could, however still be used as an instrument to compensate farmers for certain services or to influence certain processes.

Negative results

Target driven: Extension activities driven by the need to achieve targets have given poor results and lead to substantial waste in resources.

Attention to socio-cultural problems: Many opportunities were missed by not sufficiently addressing socio-cultural problems especially in the field of cattle herding.

Combining responsibilities: With the current system the professions of veterinary, animal production specialist, animal nutritionist, fodder agronomist, rangeland specialist and soil conservation specialist are all concentrated on a single person. To make matters worse, there is a strong bias towards animal health leaving almost no room for the other expertise.

Future directions

The Royal Government of Bhutan is strongly committed to improving the nutrition and increasing the incomes of the rural population, while at the same time maintaining or improving the biophysical resources of the country. To achieve this goal livestock production system will have to:

·        produce livestock products for the a fast growing urban population;

·        make a positive contribution towards maintaining the overall biophysical resources;

·        provide equitable income opportunities for the rural population; and

·        complement field crop, horticulture and forestry production systems by exploiting synergistic effects, optimising labour efficiency and accelerating nutrient cycling.

Research and extension have an important role to play, but the limited resources available for research across Bhutan’s wide range of environmental conditions demands rigorous priority setting. Future research programmes need to be flexible, realistic and simple. Whilst drawing up future plans imaginative interventions should be given as much attention as drawing on the experiences of earlier extension programmes. The success of future extension activities will largely depend on the availability of human resources and appropriate technologies generated by the research programmes.


Dukpa T., S. Tshering, P. Wangchuk and W. Roder, 1999. Forage legume establishment in wheat, maize or rice.  Journal of Renewable Natural Resources, Bhutan 1:47-70.

Gierson, A.J.C.; Long, D.G. (1983) Flora of Bhutan including a Record of Plants from Sikkim. Volume 1, Part 1. Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden

Noltie, H.J. (2000) The Grasses of Bhutan. Flora of Bhutan, Including a Record of Plants from Sikkim and Darjeeling. Volume 3 Part 2. Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden

Roder W., Rinzin and T. Gyeltshen. 2002a. Ficus auriculata – its relative importance in Bhutan, farmers’ preference and fodder quality. Agroforestry Systems (in press).

Roder W.S. Tshering, J. Dorji, C. Samdup  and P. Wangchuk. 2002b. Experiences with greenleaf desmodium (Desmodium intortum) seed production in Bhutan. Tropical Grasslands (in press).

Roder W., P. Wangchuk, S. Tshering and T. Gyeltsen, 2001. Relay seeding forage species in rice systems in Bhutan. Tropical Grasslands 35:235-240.

Roder W., Wangdi, K., Gyamtsho, P., and Dorji, K., 2001 Feeding the herds – Improving fodder resources in Bhutan. ICIMOD, Kathmandu.

RNR-RC Jakar, 2001. Fodder Production in Bhutan – A handbook for extension agents. RNR-RC Jakar.

Roder  W. 1992. Experiences with tree fodders in temperate regions of  Bhutan. Agroforestry Systems 17:263-270.

Wangdi K.; Roder, W.; Thinlay, P. (1998) Willow Review: Salix Babylonica as a Fodder for Ruminants - A Review with Emphasis on Experiences from Bhutan Proceeding Third Annual National Livestock Research Workshop, Bathplathang, Bumthang. RNR-RC Jakar.