The paper briefly describes the important roles of mountain forests of Bhutan, forestry policies that are pro-poor and potentially explicit strategies on wood products, non-timber forest products, community and private forestry for poverty reduction, although extreme poverty and hunger are not widespread in Bhutan. Also included are thought-provoking concepts on compensation for environmental services from megapower projects and, as an introduction, community-based tourism as plough-back strategies for forest and watershed conservation and poverty reduction.
With 72.5 percent of the total area covered by forests, forests remain the largest and one of the most important renewable natural resources in Bhutan. Although forestry contributes only 10 percent to the Gross Domestic Product, potentially it is also one of the highest revenue earners for the Bhutanese economy. The potential is expected to be fulfilled from two avenues.
Firstly, wide varieties of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are utilized from forests including commercially important products such as cane, bamboo, wild mushrooms, medicinal plants and aromatics for both subsistence and income generation. The subsistence use of NTFPs is widespread and crucial for sustaining the rural livelihoods of 80 percent of Bhutans population. Mountain agriculture expansion is constrained by several factors including a rapidly growing population (2.5 percent), difficult terrains, limited access and marketing opportunities, often fragmented agricultural land holdings constituting 7.7 percent and, recently, migration by rural workforce to urban areas in search of better opportunities. Given the specific constraints, many eyes are on commercializing NTFPs that have high potential for household income generation and earning foreign exchange through rural enterprise development and exploring niche markets outside Bhutan. The countrys total export earning from NTFPs has increased from 36 to 43 million ngultrum (Bhutan trade statistics, 1991-1999).
Secondly, Bhutans mountain forests are crucial for regulating a sustained flow of water for the generation of hydroelectricity. The value of water for power generation is quickly taking precedence over its value for traditional irrigated agricultural production. It is expected that by 2005, power generation will supersede agriculture (36 percent) in its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product with an export earning potential of more than US$200 million. As more than 45 percent of Bhutan has an elevation above 3000 m, it has a techno-economic feasibility of 16 000 MW and potentially 30 000 MW of hydropower generation. Although the benefits from hydropower are immense, it can only be realized if forests and watersheds are managed on a sustained basis. Today, conservation support is largely driven by the fact that healthy forest ecosystems are a prerequisite for sustained power generation.
Although extreme poverty is rare in Bhutan, little is known about the extent of poverty and contribution of the forestry subsector. The Royal Government, however, is conscious and concerned with its rural peoples welfare, which is far from comfortable and many agricultural and forestry policies are pro-poor. The draft Forest Policy of 1991 and the Forestry-Subsector Plan for 9th FYP (2002-2007) recognise the multiple functions of forests. They stipulate management primarily for protection, conservation of forest biodiversity and sustainable use of forest resources. They specifically encourage growth of national and local economies by creating enabling mechanisms for forest-based industries and meeting the demand for wood and non-wood products through sustainable forest resource management for the improvement of rural livelihoods.
The Forest Policy also reaffirms that forest covers at least 60 percent of Bhutans area at all times. The Forest Subsector Policy contributes to overall RNR (renewable natural resources, i.e. forestry, agriculture and livestock) sector goals and poverty reduction programmes by creating a direct source of subsistence and cash incomes, increasing access to markets for forest goods and services and creation of seasonal employment opportunities. The Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 and Rules 2000 legalize community and private forestry and protected areas constituting 26 percent of Bhutans area. The rules provide a basis for the establishment, protection and management of forest resources by communities and individual households.
The governments Private Sector Development and Foreign Investment Policy has a profound implication on enterprising forestry for poverty reduction of rural peoples. Major reforms in timber pricing and marketing reforms aimed at increasing domestic timber supplies and investment in wood processing started from 1999 onwards. Privatization will particularly boost commercialization of NTFPs with high export potential, although specific policies and strategies for conservation and utilization do not exist.
STRATEGIES FOR POVERTY REDUCTION
In wood products development, privatization is expected to promote the growth of small-scale timber and furniture-making industries. Maximizing cost-effectiveness on wood harvesting and processing, marketing and promotion of lesser-known species are focussed in wood products research strategies.
Non-timber forest products (NTFPs)
Given the potential of high household incomes and export, eyes are particularly on the development of high value, low volume NTFPs like cane, bamboo, nutrition-rich mushrooms, clinical medicines and essential oils from borinda, matsutake, chirata, cordyceps and lemon grass through rural enterprises. Research to understand ecology and management to ensure resource base sustainability from forests, domestication, high quality product development, labelling and certification and exploring niche markets outside Bhutan intensifies with the inception of the rural development project. The recently approved Biodiversity Act 2003 protects farmers rights and guarantees equitable benefit sharing from use of such resources.
Social forestry comprises community and private forestry in Bhutan. Community forestry is relatively a new initiative in Bhutan aimed at attracting peoples participation in the protection and management of forest resources. Currently, two models are applied and tested. Firstly, intact natural forests are formally handed over to community protection and management based on detailed assessment of forest resources and written management plans; secondly, local people are encouraged to reforest and take over degraded forest land for future benefits. This way, the Department of Forest fulfils household needs for small-scale timber, fuelwood and fodder, and plans to bring forests outside commercially harvested areas under formal management regime eventually.
Private woodlots of commercially valuable species such as teak (Tectona grandis) planted in marginal agricultural landholdings are promising forestry enterprises in the humid foothills of Bhutan. They have an immense scope for generating household incomes and contribution to poverty reduction through business transactions under the framework of the private forestry rules.
These models have progressively advanced at various levels of planning and implementation. While these models generally contribute to household subsistence, presently income contribution remains low. Research will continue to foster these models through integrating the synergies between agriculture, livestock and forestry into the overall farming system.
Common property resource management
Forest and grazing land (tsamdro) foraging by domestic cattle and harvesting of NTFPs are integral parts of forest dependent livelihood strategies pursued by many local communities. Livestock rearing provides significant off-farm incomes through sale of livestock products particularly for high altitude transhumance communities. The recently drawn framework on Community-Based Natural Resource Management provides opportunities for decentralization of protection and management responsibilities to local communities and field learning in this context.
In retrospect, the Forest Departments reafforestation efforts were only satisfactorily contributed by various factors including less integration of social needs, weak participation by the locals and budgetary constraints. They also provided employment opportunities on a piecemeal basis. Meeting the forest products needs of a rapidly growing population, reducing overdependence on natural forests and generating employment opportunities will require substantial efforts in increasing forest plantation cover from the just 2 percent at present.
Bhutans relatively intact mountain forests and watersheds are crucial for regulating a sustained water flow to revolve the wheels of mega-power projects like the Tala, Chukka and Kurichu Hydropower Corporations in central and eastern Bhutan. Despite immense benefits to downstream and urban communities, compensation for environmental services particularly for the rehabilitation of upstream mountain forests and watersheds remains unclear in forestry legislations. The silt load during peak flows and reduced water flows during offseason are major problems encountered. The benefits from hydropower can only be realized if the upstream forests and watersheds are preserved or improved. Forest and environment conservation is also inextricably linked to the livelihood of upstream communities. With the emerging concern with forests for poverty reduction and recognizing the multifunctional roles of mountain forests, understanding the impacts of environmental services including economic and societal valuation of mountain forests and effects of different land-use systems needs enhancement. These findings must be effectively communicated to policy-makers, donors and the general public to ensure informed decision-making and legalizing fair and equitable compensation mechanisms locally and globally.
Bhutans bountiful natural forests and snow-clad, silhouetted mountains are increasingly becoming an asset for enterprising rural areas through state-run tourism and potential community-based tourism. Although the tourism industry is still a fledgling sector in the Bhutanese economy, it is a priority area under the Private Sector Development and, specifically, the Foreign Direct Investment Policies. Currently, the tourism industry is state-run and operated by private tour operators. To counter the imbalance in future and respecting the goal of improving rural livelihood, community-based tourism needs to be introduced and integrated. Infrastructure development including recreation and education facilities, improvement of quality, control and privatization of state-run resorts, capacity building and marketing and linking tourism providers to external niche markets of ecotourism and cultural tourism should receive attention.
CDE. 2000a. Mountains of the world. Mountain forests and sustainable development. Switzerland, Centre for Environment and Development, Institute of Geography, University of Berne.
CDE. 2000b. Mountains of the world. Sustainable development in mountain areas. Need for adequate policies and instruments. Switzerland, Centre for Environment and Development, Institute of Geography, University of Berne.
Department of Forestry Services. 2002. Forestry Sub-Sector Plan, Ninth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007). Royal Government of Bhutan, Ministry of Agriculture.
Forestry Research Programme for Ninth FYP. 2002. Department of Forestry Services (2002) Forestry Sub-Sector Plan, Ninth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007). Royal Government of Bhutan, Ministry of Agriculture.
Ministry of Agriculture. 2002a. Community-based natural resources management in Bhutan. A framework. Royal Government of Bhuton, Department of Research and Development Services.
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