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Prospects for agricultural water management

The research and development needs, identified in the Bhutan Water Policy, include: hydro-meteorology, assessment of national water resources, surface water resources and watershed protection, groundwater hydrology and recharge, water-harvesting, water balance studies, crop–water requirements and cropping systems, soil erosion and bio-engineering, flood control and mitigation, erosion of the water course and sedimentation of the reservoirs, safety of hydraulic structures, recycling and reuse of water, best practices, economic and financial planning, wastewater handling, water pollution and prevention.

The government plans to effectively use the water resources for sustainable agricultural development, harnessing hydropower potential and industrial development for socio-economic development.

In 2009, Bhutan requested support from FAO to explore the feasibility of irrigation in the southern zone of Bhutan (districts of Sarpang, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse). The original proposal aimed to increase rice production to meet an enhanced share of domestic needs through expansion of the cultivated area and double cropping. Its objective was: (i) to conduct a comprehensive study on irrigation development in the southern belt to assess its potential to contribute to national food security and local livelihoods; and (ii) to conduct a groundwater study to explore its potential as an alternative to surface water for their joint use. After a reconnaissance mission, fielded by FAO at the end of 2009, the conclusions were (Tillier et al., 2010):

  • Southern Bhutan offers much potential for irrigation. The climate is favourable, surface water resources are abundant, groundwater is possibly available in some parts, multiple use of water is possible (water diverted for irrigation can also be used for other purposes such as fisheries, livestock, etc.), there is scope for increasing yields, and there is sufficient market for agriculture products both within the country and in the neighbouring Indian market.
  • Investment in irrigation in the southern zone is warranted from an agronomic viewpoint. The difference in yields between irrigated and non-irrigated crops was observed in the field. Yields of up to 4.4 tonnes/ha were reported from the best farmers under fully irrigated conditions, which is better than the average yields in neighbouring India (3.1 tonnes/ha), while the average in Bhutan is 2.4 tonnes/ha. However, to fully maximize the benefits from investment in irrigation (and rice production) farmers will need to improve their farming practices, including water management, varieties, fertility (and soil) management and pest management.
  • While potential for irrigation development exists, there is also much potential and requirement for improvement of water management both in the distribution systems and at field level and there is much potential for both irrigated and rainfed productivity gains by introducing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Conservation Agriculture (CA).


The expressions ‘Chu’ and ‘Chhu’ that are often added to the names of rivers, mean ‘river. Therefore, in this English version of the country profile, these words have been removed from the name of the river and replaced by the word “river”. As an example, Wang Chu has been changed to Wang river.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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