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4. Bhutan

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land


Natural forest 1995


Change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/annual change (thousand ha/%)

-47/-9 (-0.3)

Population 1997 (millions)/Annual rate of change 1995-2000 (%)


Rural population 1997(%)


Source of data: FAO - State of the World’s Forests 1999

General information

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a land-locked country situated in the eastern Himalayas and is one of the ecological wonders of the world. The terrain is among the most rugged and mountainous in the world. The climate is extremely varied, ranging from sub-tropical in the lower southern foothills, to temperate in the central belt, to permanent ice and tundra conditions in the north. Water resources are abundant in Bhutan and provide many possibilities for hydropower generation. As local requirements are still quite modest, the major share of the energy produced will be exported, representing a large part of Bhutan’s total export revenue.

The economy of Bhutan is predominantly rural. The area suitable for agriculture production is limited, mainly by the very steep terrain and the altitude. Most rural households own livestock, which are grazed in the forest areas and pastures. The majority, about 85%, of the population derive a living from agriculture and other traditional activities in the rural sector. National fuel wood requirements are very high due to the lack of alternative energy sources. The production of fuel wood can meet about 83% of the total energy demand.

The flora and fauna of Bhutan are diverse; 72% of the country is covered by forests of fir, mixed coniferous, temperate, chir pine, and broadleaf species. The declared nature parks and reserves cover 26% of the country’s land area. Much of the flora has remained undisturbed, so Bhutan most likely has the richest flora in the Himalayan region. The Government is determined to conserve the flora and has set a national policy to maintain at least 60% of the land permanently under forest cover. Moreover, a number of rare animals can still be found since the flora has remained undisturbed. Rare animals such as the golden langur, takin, and blue sheep are found widely. Tigers, leopards, snow leopards, red panda, gaur, serow, Himalayan black bears, brown bears, wild pigs, musk deer, and other types of deer are commonly found in many parts of the country.

Bhutan’s potential for developing Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) is quite considerable. Several commodities are classified under NWFPs, including: fodder, bamboo, medicinal plants, natural dyes, pine resin, lemon grass, and forest foods. But, several constraints hinder this development, including:

· little is known about the resources, management strategies, best harvesting practices, and marketing opportunities;

· professionals are too few, there is limited knowledge of practical management and the prospects for future development; and

· a weak institutional base.

Policy and planning

All the forests in the country are state owned and have been declared as Government Reserved Forests by the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1969. The forests have been classified into three categories namely: Government Reserved Forest, Community Forest, and Private Forest. Community Forests had been handed over to the people for management purposes, while the land, minerals, and wildlife are still owned by the Government; meaning that the trees and the plants belong to the communities residing in and around the forests. In regard to management, the reserved forest is divided into protected areas for national parks, sanctuaries and nature reserves, and forest management units for harvesting of timber.

The country has set aside 26% of the land area as national parks, sanctuaries and re-served areas for special wildlife habitats. There are four national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and one nature reserve. On 2 November 1999, the Government declared 382,800 ha of forest areas as a Bhutan’s “Gift to the Earth”. These areas are set aside as biological corridors for the movement of wildlife or as safe passages from one location to another without any disturbance from human activities. The areas selected as corridors are mostly unsuitable for human habitation and use. Therefore, there will be negligible impact on the local population.

The country has 0.33 million ha of degraded areas. Plantation activities are carried out on these lands and in logged over areas. It was reported that there were 43,974 acres of plantations, including the community plantations, plantations by the industries, and plantations in logged over areas.

An approved Forest Management Plan should be obtained prior to forestry operations in the reserved forest. At present, there are 13 forest management units covering an area of 88,788 ha. In addition, three working schemes have been prepared. The total annual allowable cut of these units and schemes is 133,251 m3 standing volume. The total timber harvested was 52,574.18 m3 in 1999. These units had been inventoried and their growing stock had been assessed. The management plan of the unit is crafted for a period of 10 years. For sustainability of the resources, timber production of each unit area should be less than its annual allowable cut. All the management units have forest roads constructed for timber transportation.

The Forest Master Plan exercise began in June 1989 and the strategic plan document was available in October 1991. The Master Plan proposes eight programmes as follows:

· conservation;
· forest management;
· non-wood products;
· human resources development;
· watershed management
· social forestry;
· institutional development; and
· industries development

The total financial requirements for the implementation of the forestry programmes for the period 1992/93 - 1996/97 was US$ 64.4 million. The Ministry of Agriculture has incorporated the Master Plan process into the formulation of a Forestry Programme Framework (FPF). The elements of the forestry sector strategy of this FPF are:

· Sustainable forestry development resources and self-sufficiency in wood products;

· Contribution to improvements in income, living and nutritional standards; and

· Environmental conservation, emphasising integrated and comprehensive management of watersheds.

The structure of the forestry programme elements and strategic issues is as follows:

· Supporting programme elements composed of Strategic planning; Human resource development; Land use planning; Monitoring and evaluation; Policy and legislation; and Institutional development.

· Functional programme elements composed of Forest resource information; Management planning; Environmental conservation and natural area protection; Forestry research; and Forestry extension.

· Operational programme elements composed of Nature conservation and natural area protection; Sustainable forest management and utilisation for multiple uses; and Forestry for community development.

The important achievement of the Forestry Master Plan was the formulation of a Forestry Programme Framework (FPF). The FPF serves as a conceptual and logical means of relating the goals and priorities of the forestry sub-sector to identify programme elements. It links together on-going donor assisted projects and Government activities that contribute towards achieving the 8th Fiscal Year Plan national goals. It is felt that the framework will help in organising the government’s planning efforts and provide a means of monitoring and assessing progress.

In addition, donor support to forestry development and the allocation of Government funds have been considered substantial. Support was given in the following areas:

· Land use planning;
· Industrial forestry development;
· Natural resources training;
· Nature conservation and wildlife;
· Institutional strengthening
· Forest management;
· Integrated forestry development;
· Afforestation;
· Human resource development; and
· Forest management/conservation

Moreover, an environment and biodiversity conservation project has been in place supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), WWF, and Austria. A project proposal to provide support for country capacity for forestry development has been formulated. This project should assist the Government in the co-ordination, evaluation, and planning of donor assisted support in terms of strategic planning, policy, legislation, and institutional development.

Recently, the Third Forestry Development Project became operational. The long-term aim of the project is to promote national and regional conservation and management of the forest resources to benefit national, regional, and local well being of the people of Bhutan, consistent with the 1991 Forest Policy. In the short- and medium-terms, it is designed to:

· address critical issues arising from the deterioration of forest resources in a fragile mountain ecosystem resulting from exogenous pressures to meet the increasing needs of the human and livestock population for various categories of forest produce, and

· develop and test a pragmatic approach to sustainable forestry development which can be applied nation-wide within the concept of an approved Renewable Natural Resources sector strategy.

Fiscal Year Plan (FYP) on forestry

Since embarking on its socio-economic development planning, the Government has kept the policy to ensure that the process of development of all aspects should be consistent with maintaining the environmental and cultural integrity of the country. In this regard, His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck stated that:

“Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the twentieth century with our environment still richly intact. We wish to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to our future generations”.

Under the Seventh Fiscal Year Plan (7FYP), aimed at sustainable economic development and commencing in mid-1992, the Government adopted a programme of development planning. The renewable natural resources sector, which includes agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry, was given priority under the 7FYP.

The major objectives of forestry development under the 7FYP include:

· integration and co-ordination of land use;

· transfer of control of forest used by local populations in order to arrest the degradation process in certain critical regions;

· assign priority to providing the basic needs of the rural population;

· assign priority to natural forest management;

· increase co-ordination of environmental conservation activities.

It was reported that in the 7FYP, significant progress towards the development of a forest policy and strategy that balances requirements for conservation with the needs of local communities was made. In line with the decentralisation policy, implementation of almost all activities has been decentralised to the Dzongkhags. Therefore, the sectoral review of the 7FYP was mainly based on the implementation at Dzongkhag level. During the 7FYP, 5,000 acres of new and 15,000 acres of maintenance plantations were achieved. This indicated that substantial funds were allocated for the forestry sub-sector. Other important achievements include the preparation and implementation of a Management Plan in collaboration with the Bhutan Logging Corporation, and more than 500,000 trees planted through the Social Forestry Programmes.

In the 8FYP, starting in 1996, the theme is a mustering of efforts towards achieving self-reliance as expressed by His Majesty the King:

“National self-reliance in the Bhutanese context means ultimately to be able to stand on one’s own feet, have the power of decision in one’s own hands, and not be dependent on others”.

The development of hydropower and industries is considered to be an important development strategy for enhancing the goal of self-reliance and sustainability. Hydropower is one of the major renewable resources of the country, which is still not yet harnessed to any great extent in the economic development. The largest resources share has been allocated to this sector in the 8FYP.

In the 8FYP, an effective programme of impact monitoring and evaluation will be established, the results of which will feed back into programme review and design. The land use activities will be broadened, with work focusing on land policy analysis, farming systems analysis, and the strengthening of planning capacities at the Dzongkhag level.

In the 8FYP, forest management activities will focus on three major programme areas as follows:

1. Sustainable forest management.

This programme will involve the following main activities:

· Forest protection, covering both protection of forests against encroachment and illegal felling, fire protection measures, and surveillance and preventive measures against pests and diseases;

· sustainable management for multiple use, involving strengthening forest management and placing it on a more scientific basis; and

· commercial forest operations, bringing commercial logging operations under forest management concessions, ensuring better linkages between forest logging operations and forest management, and considerably reducing budgetary demands on the government.

2. Nature conservation and protected area development

During the 7FYP, management plans were prepared for the Royal Manas National Park, the Jigme Dorji National Park, and the Black Mountain National Park. During the 8FYP, management plans will be completed for four areas: Bomdelling, Thrumshingla, Khaling, and Sakteng. Priority will be given to protected areas in the south that include endangered species such as tiger, one-horned Indian rhinoceros and elephant, and where wildlife populations are most threatened.

3. Social forestry and extension

This programme aims to address the demands of the rural population for forest products and involving rural communities in the management of forest resources. The programme has three main aspects:

· designation of community forest areas to be managed by village forest management units;

· community afforestation/reforestation initiatives in degraded areas; and

· agro-forestry and private forestry on privately owned agricultural land.

To ensure the sustainable management of the state forests and protected areas, the 8FYP has set-up a forestry strategy through which the costs to the government are minimised. Therefore, revenues from forest utilisation will be recycled to finance forest conservation and management, while the costs of managing the protected areas are increasingly being covered from the Bhutan Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established in 1991 as an innovative financing mechanism, which will help the Bhutanese to carry out conservation activities on continuous basis. At the beginning of 1996, six donors contributed US$ 17.4 million to the Trust Fund, i.e. GEF, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, WWF, and Finland.

In addition, Bhutan and the Netherlands have identified certain areas, namely environmental management, energy, climate change, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, culture, and tourism, as most embodying the concept of reciprocity.

The objective of the forestry research programme in the 8FYP is to enhance the productive and regenerative capacity of forest resources by safeguarding against any degradation of forest and water resources and loss of biodiversity. The research policy emphasises the following:

· contributing policy advice;

· managing linkages both with those outside the research system and with the farming community;

· co-ordination with other agencies involved in research, or the introduction of new technology;

· managing and making available information;

· avoiding inappropriate or harmful introductions of technology.

Policy, regulation and institutions

A revision of the Forest Act is under consideration by the Government. This revision will ensure consistency and reflect linkages between the draft Forest Policy, draft Forest Act, and draft Social Forestry Rules.

Bhutan was a participatory country in the Gender Analysis and Forestry Training of Trainers Programme of 1992-93, and two staff members of the Ministry of Agriculture participated. A focal point on gender issues was established in the Ministry of Agriculture and the training of planning staff in obtaining better information for planning is envisioned.

With support from the FAO project: Strengthening Re-Afforestation Programmes in Asia (STRAP), a workshop was held on 12-14 December 1995 to finalise a national re-afforestation strategy, in which involvement of the private sector, including industry and communities, was recommended as one of the strategies to solve the problems of limited financial and human resources, and the cost effectiveness of re-afforestation.

The Bhutan Forest Act of 1969 was replaced by the approved Forest and Nature Conservation Act of 1995 during the 73rd session of the National Assembly. A review has been commissioned to redress the rapidly emerging policy issues associated with land distribution, tenure and controls. Given the dramatic increase in orchards and plantation crops, with subsequent encroachment onto restricted forest lands and the displacement of poorer farmers onto marginal lands, the Land Act has been revised to include orchards as well as wetlands, dry lands, and shifting cultivation sites within the 25 acre ceiling.

Forest fire

The most important issue in forestry is forest fires. The area damaged by forest fires from 1992-2000 was 94,928.18 ha. In 1999, 112 cases of forest fires were recorded destroying 11,600 ha of forests with an estimated value loss of US$ 3,363,636.

The Government has seriously considered this problem. Overseas assistance for remedial measures and advice concerning the types of equipment has been requested. The terrain is so rugged so that it is difficult and sometimes impossible to reach the fire spots.

Harvesting and marketing

The forest management units have been fully mechanised. The two sets of cable cranes, namely gravity cable crane and all terrain cable crane, are presently used for long distance cable logging with a capacity of lifting 2.5 tones. No manual logging is permitted inside the forest management units. The power chainsaws have replaced the traditional axes.

a) In some forest road constructions, excavators have replaced bulldozers for constructing environmentally friendly roads. The used of bulldozers will also be replaced by excavators for road construction within the forest management units.

b) The new policy to enforce the ban on the export of logs came into force in 1999. The policy was adopted to ensure the development of the local based industries and to create job opportunities for the Bhutanese people. This policy is also directed toward reducing forest harvesting, thereby contributing to conservation.

Non-wood forest products that have been harvested and provide substantial income and employment include lemon grass oil, medicinal plants and mushrooms. These products have markets within and outside the country. The most commonly known mushroom with a high price is the “Sangay Shamu” or Matsutaki (Tricholoma masutaki) and is widely harvested from the forests. A total of 9,028 kg of raw mushrooms and 300 kg of processed mushrooms were exported in 1999. The Mushroom Centre at Thimphu teaches the collectors about the sustainable harvesting of the mush-room. This mushroom has not been cultivated to day.

Collaboration with partners

Many donor agencies have assisted the country in the forestry sector development. They include the following:

a). The Third Forestry Development Project assisted by World Bank/SDC, duration of 1994-2002, costing US$ 6.8 million;

b). Bhutan - German Sustainable RNR Development Programme; supported by Germany; duration of 1997-2000; costing US$ 2.6 million.

c). Integrated Forestry Management; assisted by Austria; duration 1999-2001; costing US$ 2.3 million.

d). Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park; supported by UNDP/GEF; duration 1997-2001; costing US$1.6 million.

e). Royal Manas National Park, supported by WWF; costing US$ 0.9 million.

f). Biodiversity Conservation; supported by the Netherlands; duration 1997-2002; costing US$ 1.7 million.

g). Wang Watershed Development; supported by EU; costing US$ 8.4 million.

h). Institutional Development Initiative; supported by IDF; duration 2000-2002; costing US$ 0.5 million.

Focal point
Sangay Thinley
Joint Secretary,
Forestry Service Division
Ministry of Agriculture
P.O.Box 130
Thimphu, Bhutan
Tel (975) 22395/23055
Fax (975) 22395


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