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Updated: 2 hours 58 min ago

BDTF directs education ministry to establish special school

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:14

KP Sharma

In response to the increasing number of drug users, particularly among students, the National Drug Task Force (NDTF) has directed the Ministry of Education and Skill Development to accelerate the establishment of a special school in Yonphula, Trashigang.

However, according to the Prime Minister’s office, the details of the school have not been finalised yet.

This directive, according to the relevant agencies, is timely given the urgency of the issue in the country.

The directive signals the government’s prioritisation of the issue and its commitment to addressing.

During the second Meet-the-Press session, the Prime Minister said that the government spent about Nu 538 million to address drug-related cases among students last year.

To tackle the drug-related issues in schools, the Prime Minister highlighted the importance of raising awareness among students.

The government is also planning the introduction of mandatory drug tests for all students in schools.

The task force’s aim to have the school running by early July 2024 signals a sense of urgency in addressing the issue among students.

Failing to act promptly could exacerbate substance-related problems and increase risks such as academic underachievement, mental health issues and involvement in criminal activities, aaccording to some school teachers.

According to Namgay Dorji, a school teacher in Thimphu, the endorsement of a comprehensive framework for the national response to address substance-related issues by the task force is a stepping stone towards a more co-ordinated and effective approach towards tackling substance use in the country.

According to Namgay Dorji, the framework may include strategies for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation as well as measures to address the underlying social and economic factors contributing to substance use.

The framework also mandates the establishment of a referral pathway for individuals who test positive for drugs and ensures a pathway for those in need of further support and intervention are connected to appropriate services in a timely manner.

A school counsellor in Samtse said that such specialised schools will provide targeted support for students struggling with substance use-related issues and by offering specialised education and resources, it can address the needs of these students more effectively. “The school can prevent escalation of problems and provide necessary interventions to help students overcome challenges related to drug use.”

Many teachers believe that such initiatives could promote community involvement and awareness of substance use issues—by mobilising various stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and community leaders, the response becomes more comprehensive and sustainable.

In the past, students facing drug use problems lacked sufficient guidance and corrective measures for various reasons. Some were referred to improvement centres, while others received support from school counsellors.

Although not confirmed, the rumours are circulating around that the new school is likely to be established in the former Kelki school in Yonphula which has been vacant since it was used as a Covid-19 hospital as the structures perfectly suit for a school set up.

Bhutan to host sustainable finance conference to protect tigers

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:13

Sherab Lhamo

The roar for conservation grows louder as the Tiger Conservation Coalition unveils its ambitious agenda: a groundbreaking Sustainable Finance for Tiger Landscapes Conference.

With a goal of raising USD 1 billion, this initiative seeks to not only bolster tiger conservation efforts but also foster community resilience, enabling harmonious coexistence with these majestic predators.

The conference will be held in Bhutan between April 22 and 23.

Bhutan’s tiger population has shown promising growth, with an estimated 131 tigers recorded in 2023, marking a significant 27 percent increase from the count in 2015.

This trend is highlighted in the National Tiger Survey Report of 2023.

The annual growth of tiger population has been 5 percent.

Lobzang Dorji, Director, Department of Forests and Park Services, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, said that while this is encouraging for conservation efforts, there is need for adequate funding to mitigate human-tiger conflict that is growing in communities living in the tiger landscape.

Lobzang Dorji, said that impact of conservation efforts were successful.

Trongsa has experienced the highest number of human-wildlife conflicts, with a total of 580 cases reported between 2020 and 2024. Within Trongsa, Nubi Gewog accounted for 360 of these cases, indicating a significant number of human wildlife conflict in that area.

According to a survey conducted between July 2019 and 2021, tigers were responsible for the deaths of 560 livestock animals. In response to these losses, some people have resorted to illegally harming and killing these animals as a means of retaliation or protection of their livestock.

Over the past decade, the Department of Forests and Park Services, confiscated more than 22 tiger skins.

This indicates ongoing efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade and protect endangered species like tigers.

Lobzang Dorji, emphasized the importance of managing biological corridors to tackle human-wildlife conflict effectively.

These corridors play a crucial role in facilitating tiger movement between areas, and while progress has been observed, sustained efforts are required.

Lobzang Dorji also stressed the need for continuous annual monitoring of tiger populations, rather than the current practice of every five years, to ensure more effective conservation measures.

He emphasised Bhutan’s focus on sustainable financing, which involves exploring innovative methods like carbon credits, environmental services, and user fees within parks and conservation areas.

These approaches are aimed to generate funds while supporting conservation efforts for long-term wildlife protection.

The Global Tiger Forum 2023 reported that there are currently 5,574 tigers remaining in the wild, up from 3,890 in 2016. However, the World Wildlife Fund stresses that much more work is required to safeguard the future of this species in its natural habitat.

In 2022, the government took a significant step by establishing six gewog tiger conservation tshogpas in Trongsa.

These are community-led tiger conservation groups are aimed at fostering stewardship of tigers, addressing human-tiger conflicts, and offering livestock insurance.

To combat tiger poaching, authorities implemented smart patrolling strategies and raised fines from Nu 50,000 to Nu 100,000.

Tigers primarily inhabit the Royal Manas Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, as well as forests in Bumthang, Dagana, and Zhemgang.

 

RSPN and BirdLife Asia to conserve Gangtey -Phobjikha wetland and support local livelihoods

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:13

Yangyel Lhaden

To safeguard the Gangtey-Phobjikha wetland and support the livelihoods of locals, particularly those reliant on potato farming, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) is conducting assessments of soil, water, and vegetation in the valley through a project.

The two-year project, titled “Conservation of black-necked crane through wetland management, Bhutan”, in partnership with BirdLife Asia, commenced in January of this year.

This initiative aims to comprehend the extent of impacts from both natural phenomena and human activities on the wetland ecosystem. It seeks to generate quantitative data to present to the government and relevant stakeholders for interventions backed by evidence.

Presently, the threats to wetlands include drying, the growth of shrubs and woody plants which encroach upon the wetland, chemical fertilisers, weedicides, pesticides runoff from fields, and waste from increasing tourism, among others.

Locals reminisce about a time when the wetland retained its moisture even during the winter months, necessitating the use of Wellington boots for traversal. However, nowadays, it dries up entirely during winter, and its moisture levels in the summer have noticeably decreased compared to the past.

“It is important to conserve wetlands, as they have a higher carbon sequestration level compared to forests, and a healthy wetland benefits the people in the valley both directly and indirectly,” National Coordinator  for Crane Conservation at RSPN, Jigme Tshering said. “Qualitative views on the wetland needs to be backed up by scientific data for informed decision-making.”

The Gangtey-Phobjikha wetland expands over 974.65 hectares and is home to about 100 species of bird, mostly migratory and about 10 species of wild mammals.

The people of this valley’s sole cash crop is potato and their potato cultivation is depended on usage of chemical fertilisers annually. The locals apply chemical fertilisers based on affordability and they use as much organic manure as well.

While the precise quantity of chemical fertilisers applied in the two gewogs remains uncertain, recent soil quality assessments conducted through this project by the National Soil Services Centre indicate favourable soil and water conditions.

However, the results reveal an anomaly: the soil in Gangtey is found to have phosphorus levels surpassing the acceptable range.

“There is threat to the wetland from excessive use of fertilisers and run-off of extra fertilisers in the wetland,” Jigme Tshering said. “ Through this project we want to conserve the wetland and in the heart of conservation is protecting livelihood of people.”

“By the end of the project, the primary aim is to safeguard the livelihoods of farmers as we intend to achieve this by advocating for organic farming models such as IBIS rice,” Jigme Tshering said.

“This approach ensures that farmers can sustain their livelihoods without facing concerns regarding yield and the value of their produce. This is vital in promoting the adoption of organic farming,” he said.

The giant ibis is a critically endangered bird and is Cambodia’s national bird which was believed to be extinct for almost 50 years due to habitat loss, deforestation, and illegal hunting, until a camera trap captured a photo of one during a survey. IBIS rice—the real taste of conservation—is a product produced organically in Cambodia, founded by the Wildlife Conservation Society to save the critically endangered ibis.

“We could promote Gangtey-Phobjikha potatoes as “Thrung Thrung Potatoes” or “Crane Potatoes,” which are organically grown products resulting from conservation efforts,” Jigme Tshering said. “This will require immense support to our farmers to transition from chemical fertilisers to fully organic methods by adding value to their potatoes through branding and finding sustainable markets with the help of entrepreneurs and government support.”

Presently, the farmers in these valleys face insufficient organic fertilisers and are unable to apply them, relying more on chemical fertilisers which often strain their finances.

“In the beginning, the government also needs to develop a mechanism to provide enough organic fertilisers at a subsidised cost,” Jigme Tshering said. “Through this project, we will also conduct advocacy and awareness programmes within the community, hold consultation meetings with stakeholders, and analyse their land use and changes in land-use cover for enhanced wetland management.”

Jabmis’ call for improvement in justice system

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:12

The just-concluded three-day Annual General Meeting of the Bar Council brought together key stakeholders from the judiciary, law enforcement, prosecution, and anti-corruption agencies. This convergence afforded a pivotal opportunity to address pressing issues impacting the delivery of justice in our nation.

The Jabmis highlighted numerous discrepancies between courts, investigating agencies, prosecutors, inter-agency discrepancies as well as ethical issues concerning Jabmis. The concerns ranged from the appeal process, security checks in courts, investigating agencies not adhering to established laws and procedures, limited timeframe for filing complete appeal petitions, potential biases against Jabmis, and the imposition of liabilities on Jabmis.

They also raised concerns about courts refusing to register cases involving defendants not physically present in Bhutan, thereby impeding access to justice. The mandatory submission of every petition in Dzongkha, despite legal principles being derived from the Common Law System and parties’ ability to understand English, was perceived as a potential hindrance to justice. Jabmis unanimously reiterated their role as officers of the court, assisting in reaching the truth by arguing facts, producing evidence, and analyzing laws.

Further, it was agreed that access to justice, a cornerstone of our legal system, is being impeded by certain procedural barriers. For instance, some courts refuse to register cases if the defendant is not physically present in Bhutan, effectively denying plaintiffs their inherent right to sue and seek redress. Concerns were raised on convictions solely based on confessions alone.  It also concerns if the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is established merely by confessions as confessions are not evidence but just statements, more of circumstantial evidence.

Further, the AGM reiterated that Jabmis were officers of the court. Jabmis play a crucial role in upholding the integrity of our justice system. Their voices must be heeded, and their concerns addressed with urgency and diligence. Consistency in judicial proceedings is paramount to ensuring due process and the rule of law, principles enshrined in our Constitution.

The AGM discussed the Code of Ethics, addressing duties to the self, court, clients, and public. Concerns over ethical breaches among Jabmis were noted based on Bar’s disciplinary actions. As the court’s torchbearers, Jabmis must uphold the highest ethics, integrity, and avoid unethical conduct. Reports revealed that there were instances of Jabmis refusing to provide services after taking fees, failure to declare conflict of interest, representing without Jabmi Certificate or charging fees based on outcome of the case. To address such issues, the AGM proposed a comprehensive Code of Ethics to ensure that Jabmis uphold the high standards of ethical behavior and integrity. This meeting also proposed to amend the Jabmi to respond to emerging issues.

Jabmis play an important role in ensuring justice. But the bug stops at the Judiciary as it determines the ultimate justice. Example, Courts ordering police to release arbitrarily detained persons must be immediately obeyed. As reiterated by the  President of the Bar Council during the opening, we must work together and collectively ensure justice for those seeking justice and build confidence in the system, ensuring that our nation’s legal system upholds the highest standards of fairness, integrity, and respect for the rule of law. Justice must be done both in means and end. The “justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done”.

 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Land management helps Trashiyangtse farmers

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:11

Neten Dorji

Trashiyangtse—Tshering Yueden of Bimkhar in Trashiyangtse has revived about 1.8 acres of fallow land after more than a decade of neglect.

The revival was made possible with the support of the government and other agencies.

Increasing human-wildlife conflict,rocky soil and shortage of manpower forced Tshering Yueden to leave the land fallow.

It is not easy for landowners to overcome and initiate land reclamation efforts on their own.

The dzongkhag administration provides them with machinery and resources to make terraces again.

“Without the government’s help, the cost of reviving fallow land will be too expensive for us,” said Tshering Yueden.”

As a result of land management, most of the farmers have replaced oxen with power tillers.

Thujey Namgay, another farmer, said that most of the landowners were eager to venture into farming on fallow land.

“Land management and electric fencing have encouraged landowners like me to engage in agricultural work,” he said. “Most of the farmers are determined to cultivate paddy and start vegetable cultivation on a commercial scale.”

People have plans to gradually take up paddy farming on all uncultivated land if they receive the same support from the government.

With the dzongkhag agriculture sector undertaking numerous land reclamation projects, many abandoned farmlands across eight gewogs in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag are getting a makeover.

A farmer from Jamkhar, Ugyen Lhamo, said that the extension of terraces allowed farmers to use power tillers in paddy fields.

“My 50-decimal land, previously left uncultivated, has been made cultivable,” she said. “I will cultivate paddy and take advantage of market opportunities.”

She said that such initiatives could contribute to ensuring food self-sufficiency in the country.

Farmers say that without government assistance, the costs incurred in land processing activities are too expensive.

“Farmers are determined to transform their fallow land into lush green paddy fields and upscale the vegetables and other agriculture production,” said a farmer, Tashila, from Yangtse.

According to dzongkhag agriculture sector, some 301.46 acres of wetland and 127.1 acres of dry land in the dzongkhag were consolidated and made into terraces.

This initiative has been given priority to upscale agricultural production.

The revival attempt was possible through the land development project initiated by the Commercial Agriculture and Resilient Livelihoods Enhancement Programme (CARLEP) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and other agencies like Royal Society for Protection of Nature and National organic flagship programme.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Chhimi Dakpa, said the reclamation project received positive feedback from the people.

“Since most of the land is located in sloppy areas, dry land terracing helps to protect the soil from erosion and also prevents manure from washing away during the rainy season,” he said. “Additionally, it is much more convenient for farmers to work on terraces than in sloped areas.”

According to the dzongkhag agriculture sector, they are reviving fallow land through schemes like the construction of irrigation channels, introduction of women-friendly farm machines, installation of chain link fences in each and every chiwog, proper farm roads for the transportation of agricultural produce, encouragement of youth to take up agri-enterprise, and carrying out land development.

However, going by the dzongkhag statistics, Trashiyangtse still has 943.642 wetland and 4,742 acres of dry land fallow land to be revived in all eight gewogs.

Local leaders say that reclaiming land near Drangmechu river banks offers the potential for wetlands, which would be a significant advantage to paddy production.

“If the policies support the revival of fallow lands, farmers have the ability to continue to work for success in farming,” says Toedtsho gup, Dechen Wangdi, who believes that many farmers have left their lands fallow due to the absence of roads, human-wildlife conflicts, and irrigation canal.

He said the revival of fallow land would encourage farmers to engage in vegetable farming, helping them move towards self-reliance.

“The Tshotsang area has fertile land and favourable weather where paddy can be produced twice a year,” he said. “If the people receive proper land management, this will encourage them to pursue commercial farming.”

He said that people only need access to roads, land management, chain-link fencing, and markets to do farming.

Jamkhar gup, Cheku, said that while the government supported with a huge amount of budget for land management, people should be accountable.

“We have drawn agreements between people and the gewog administration to ensure that reclaimed land through land management is cultivated.”

Between 2016 and 2023, the government spent approximately Nu. 13.305 million on land development in Trashiyangtse.

Paro Airport: History of one of the World’s Most Challenging Airports

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:09

“High terrain and steep mountain adjacent to the apt. Rapid phenomenon change of weather in and around apt.” This is the brief for pilots landing in the Paro International Airport. “Surface wind conditions are different along rwy and can be requested.”

Built at an elevation of 2,235m, the PIA operates under the Visual Flight Rules with no night landing. The single 2,265m asphalt runway with 30m width is classified as a Category C runway.

While coming in to land at the airport, the most expensive equipment in the cockpit is switched off. Elsewhere, pilots rely on the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. Captain Ugyen Dema, said that the EGPWS is safety system that gives advanced warning of potential ground or obstacle collisions. Using GPS and on-board data, EGPWS monitors the aircraft’s position and terrain issuing alarms if it detects a potential conflict. Captain Sonam Choeda explains why the expensive piece of instrument is of no use to them. He said that for the Paro approach, as it transmits audio warnings and flashes warning lights, it becomes a distraction and hence has to be switched off.

 

Background

The PIA was built in the record time of three years. While the foundation stone was laid on 24 October 1966, the actual construction had been started earlier, in 1965.

On 8 June 1966, a helipad was constructed in Paro. The Indian Air Force Liaison Team with 56 personnel was formed. The AFLT came into existence as a result of the expression of desire by our Third King to establish an air link with the rest of world.

A few months later, on 24 October, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Arjan Singh laid the foundation stone of the Indian Air Force Station at Paro.

Building of the airfield was entrusted to the Indian Border Roads Organization (DANTAK). Known then as an Advance Landing Ground, the 1,400m runway could land a Dakota airplane.

Inauguration

Three years later, on 23 March 1968, the ALG was inaugurated. According to the 31 March 1968 edition of Kuensel, when the Deputy Prime Minister of India, Mr. Morarji Desai touched down on the newly constructed Paro air strip on 23 March in a special aircraft, he was warmly received by senior officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Indian Special Officer in Bhutan.

The inauguration was conducted in traditional Bhutanese fashion. After the monks offered prayers, flowers were showered down from a helicopter.

 

CIA

Kuensel was not alone in reporting about the PIA.  For instance, in 1968, the CIA operatives took an aerial photo of the Paro airfield. Labelled, “Paro Dzong Airfield Bhutan. 27-23N 089-26E,” with Mission 1049-2, 18-23 December 1968, it marks three areas. The first is the runway which it records as 3300’x70.’ The second marking is the extension under construction which it records as 1390’x70’. The third marking is the China/Sikkim/Bhutan border 27NM.

Earlier, in 1959, the CIA had reported on the potential construction of the airport.  According to the CIA Bulletin dated 24 December, “India may survey Bhutan’s passes into Tibet and build air strips, and train Bhutanese forces.”

The Bulletin quoted General, K.S. Thimayya, India’s Chief of Army Staff. It stated that Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Dorji had agreed to India conducting a comprehensive survey of Bhutanese passes into Tibet, and the building of an airstrip capable of accommodating C-47 air-craft.

The report further states, “In recent years, the Bhutanese government has permitted Indian map survey parties to enter the country, has allowed Indian aircraft to over-fly Bhutan to trade goods at selected locations.”

 

1952 White Paper

“In 1952-53, establishment of a fully equipped aerodrome at Punakha and the purchase of one Dakota aeroplane.” This proposal was contained in an undated white paper under the heading, “Priority to the projects relating to communications in strategic and political importance.”

Air Services was one of the three subheadings grouped under Bhutan’s proposal to India. In the subheading,  “Wireless Telegraphy and Roads,”  Bhutan proposed a total budget of Rs. 6,50,000 to build the Punakha airstrip and to buy an aeroplane. The amount of Rs. 3,50,000 was projected as non-recurring expenditure. This is the amount that was required for the establishment of a fully equipped aerodrome. The remaining Rs. three lakhs was requested in foreign exchange to  buy a Dakota aeroplane.

In the same proposal, Bhutan proposed purchase of a second Dakota aeroplane in the following year or 1953-1954. The budget proposed was Rs. three lakhs for non-recurring expenditure and foreign exchange required was Rs. three lakhs. This included purchase of spare parts.

After more than a decade, the proposal of the aerodrome and airplane was taken up again. Our Third King sent PM Jigme Palden Dorji (1919-1964) to Delhi in February 1964 to raise the issue.  During the meeting with the Ministry of External Affairs, the question of the construction of the air strip at Paro was raised.

Included in the, points for discussion during P.M ’s February 1964’s visit to Delhi was the construction of the Paro air-strip by DANTAK. The footnote contained in bracket read, “Funds can be found by re-appropriation within the Development Grant.”

The points further states that pending such time as a helicopter can be made available for the exclusive use of Bhutan, eight flights per month (by IAF helicopter) may be allotted from Hasimara/Bagdora etc to Paro, Thimphu and other centers in the interior.

It states that “the cost of such flights can be met by re-appropriation within the existing Development Grant. These eight trips per month would be exclusive of emergency flights requisitioned for mercy missions (e.g., Flights in connection with illness of H.M. etc.). The flights should be made available on direct requisition by the Bhutan government on the local IAF bases at Hasimara/Bagdogra, so that the delay involved in making references to Shillong/Delhi etc., under the existing procedure may be eliminated.”

 

Ministry of External Affairs

According to a 1964 MEA report, tentative decisions were reached in a meeting between the Prime Minister of Bhutan and Mr. M.G. Kaul, I.C.S., Joint Secretary (EA), Ministry of External Affairs held on the 25th February 1964.

The report states that PM Jigme showed photographs of the site of the proposed airfield. The report stated, “A final decision regarding the actual execution of the project will be taken in a meeting to be held in Joint Secretary (A Division)’s room on 27th February 1964, where General Dubey of the B.R.D.B. will also be present.”

Subsequently, India brought up the discussion of the construction of the airfield in Bhutan. The MEA, Notes on Bhutan-Part II states “We had asked Bhutan to allow us to construct an air-strip at Paro. After long delays, Jigme Dorji told us, very recently, that they agreed to the proposition.”

The note mentions that the question should be reconsidered, because the position, now, may be different from what it was in early 1963. The same MEA report states, “Do we need this airfield, today and will we need it tomorrow? If we construct the airfield, today, and we should be prepared to defend it. I am practically certain that the Bhutan Army cannot be expected to defend the air-strip, if there is any trouble from outside. As far as I can see, it can be defended in an emergency by parachute landings only.”

 

Paro over Punakha?

The MEA report suggests that Paro valley would be more suitable for the airfield. “The Paro valley, as I have said earlier, is much wider than the Thimphu valley. Parachute landings in Paro, as far as the terrain is concerned, are certainly possible.” According to Kuensel 15 November 1969, stated that Paro was found to be the most suitable place for the construction of an air-field. From 1968 up until 1983, the Indian Armed Forces used the airport mainly for on call helicopter operations.

Given the high terrain, steep mountain and rapid phenomenon change of weather in Paro International airport, it does not come as a surprise that only a squad of highly skilled pilots have the distinction of being certified to land at the airports.

Despite geopolitical uncertainties and lack of resources, the airport was built in a remarkably short period of time. Completion of the airport in 1968 put Bhutan on the air map and it brought a new dimension to the traditional relationship between Bhutan and India. Today, the Paro International Airport has been recognized as one the world’s most challenging airports.

 

Contributed by

Tshering Tashi

Dzondrakha Tsechu: Tradition, custom, and community dynamics in Lungnyi

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:07

At 7 am, the residents of Lungnyi in Paro are adorned in their traditional attire, awaiting the arrival of the gup at the gewog office. Following customary reception ceremonies, they escort the gup to the Dzongkdrakha monastery.

Under the gup’s guidance, the community proceeds to the monastery to partake in the venerable Dzongdrakha Tsechu, an age-old tradition deeply ingrained in the fabric of the gewog’s heritage.

The Dzongdrakha Tsechu transcends its local significance, extending its cultural and traditional roots beyond the boundaries of Lungnyi Gewog in Paro.

This is not merely an event confined to a specific location; rather, it embodies a timeless tradition deeply entrenched in the hearts of the community. It follows the customary practice of commencing a day before the renowned Paro Tsechu and concluding a day after, a ritual that has persevered unchanged for generations.

According to tradition and practice, the Paro Tsechu, renowned as one of the country’s most celebrated festivals, commences and concludes at the sacred grounds of Dzongdrakha. This customary arrangement links the profound connection between the festival and the monastery.

Perched dramatically on the cliff face, the Dzongdrakha Monastery serves as the picturesque setting for the Dzongdrakha Tsechu. Often likened to the Taktsang Monastery due to its elevated location and challenging uphill trail, Dzongdrakha holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Conversations with the local community reveal a deeply ingrained belief: the Dzongdrakha Tsechu serves as the herald for the renowned Paro Tsechu. According to tradition, the festivities of the Paro Tsechu cannot commence until after the conclusion of the Dzongdrakha Tsechu. The ceremonial journey then continues within the Rinpung Dzong before culminating once more at the sacred Dzongdrakha Monastery.

Dzongdrakha Festival commences on the 10th day of the 2nd Bhutanese month and concludes on the 16th day of the same month. This year, the festival occurred on March 19.

Despite its brevity, lasting only a day, the Tsechu holds significant cultural and spiritual importance for the community of Lungnyi Gewog and beyond.

Legend has it that the Paro Tshechu owes its origins to Drupthop Gonpo Dorji, the revered figure credited with founding the Dzongdrakha Monastery. This spiritual legacy links with the cultural tapestry of the region, enriching the significance of both the Paro Tshechu and the venerable monastery.

The community, comprising residents from five different chiwogs along with others, emphasises the significance of the Dzongdrakha Tshechu. Their collective belief resonates with the idea that attending the Paro Tshechu alone would not suffice to accumulate merits; participation in the Dzongdrakha Tshechu is deemed equally essential.

The tsechu

According to Lam Tashi Dorji from the monastery, the origins of this tsechu date back several centuries, pre-dating the Paro Tshechu. It is believed that Gonpo Dorji established this unique festival at the monastery. While there is no surviving Namthar (written scripture) documenting its history, oral traditions passed down by elders suggest that the tsechu was subsequently replicated in Paro based on the practices observed at Dzongdrakha.

“This is why it is customary for the Dzongdrakha Tshechu to commence before the Paro Tshechu. Its significance lies in the tradition that has kept the community together and blessed,” said Tashi Dorji, who oversees the monastery.

In his paper, “Luminaries and Legacies of Nenyingpa in Western Bhutan,” author Dorji Penjore mentioned that this monastery was founded by Gonpo Dorji (dgon po rdo rje), who was sent to western Bhutan to reveal a hidden treasure by Rinchen Samten Palzang (1262-1311), a descendant of Koncho Khar. It is said that Gonpo Dorji settled in Dzongdrakha and started the Dzongdrakha nobility (chos rje) family in Paro.

“He arrived at Paro, revealed Dzongdrakha, and discovered a treasure of a crystal stupa, which today remains enshrined in a larger stupa,” Dorji Penjore says.

Today, one can observe the stupa named Chorten Gulshey Karmo, a sacred structure believed to occasionally tremble during offerings. Lam Tashi Dorji mentioned that due to the belief that the stupa might fly away, it has been enclosed by a wall and a roof. However, a small door remains for individuals to make offerings and catch a glimpse of the stupa.

The monastery hosts Tsheringma Lhakhang, dedicated to the goddess of longevity, as well as shrines for Guru Rinpoche, Tara, and Maitreya (the future Buddha).

Performance

Choe Zhey, a dharma song, plays a significant role in the Dzongdrakha tsechu, surpassing its typical role as mere entertainment in other festivals. It serves as the primary performance, symbolising a spiritual offering of melody to invoke blessings upon the community, accompanied by a commitment to abstain from wrongdoing. Beginning with the Zhey Chham and concluding with the same, this ritual highlights the festival’s spiritual essence.

The attire of the Zhoep, the performer of Choe Zhey, is inspired by a bird frequently sighted above the monastery, believed to be its guardian. The white gho and black tego worn by the performer symbolise the bird’s body and feathers, respectfully embodying the spirit of the respected guide.

Although Choe Zhey was considered as the chham in the olden days later, chhams like Berkor Chham (circumambulatory procession), Jipai Pawo (dance of the honour guards), Durdag, Pa Cham, Dramitse Nga Chham, and Raksha Chham were also included.

Community dynamics

The community has ingeniously preserved its customs, with each of the five chiwogs taking turns annually to participate in the Choe Zhey ceremony and traditional dances performed by women. Men are obligated to perform as Choe Zhey as zhoep.

Regardless of the availability of performers, each chiwog community is obligated to organise and partake in the tsechu on turns. According to Lungnyi gup Jamtsho, this inclusivity ensures active community engagement.

He added that it is customary for the gup and lam to be welcomed in the open space where the tsechu is held, a tradition symbolising the community’s invitation for their blessings.

The gup also traditionally wears a sword (patang) on this occasion representing as a head. While historically, the gup bore the financial responsibility of hosting the festival, the gewog now allocates a budget of approximately Nu 0.1M to accommodate evolving costs.

As the tsechu concluded and the women completed their final dance, they shared light-hearted jokes amongst themselves, suggesting that perhaps this is why Lungnyi has never had a female gup.

They jokingly commented that only a man can continue this tradition as the head of the gewog wearing a patang.

 

Contributed by

Yangchen C Rinzin

Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies

 

Damchu-Haa highway is expected to be completed by September

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:06

Dechen Dolkar

The construction of the 51-kilometer Wanakha-Haa highway, originally set to be completed by March, is now projected to conclude by September of this year.

Project Dantak is constructing  the Damchu-Haa road, a project initiated in 2018. The total budget allocated for this endeavor is Nu 2.5 billion, generously funded by the Government of India.

Chief Engineer of Project Dantak, Brigadier Jaswinder Singh, has confirmed that all formation cutting of the road and permanent works have been successfully accomplished.

Presently, only the blacktopping of around 21 kilometres and the installation of drainage systems remain outstanding tasks.

The project has completed the construction of 167 culverts along the highway.

Project Dantak has delegated specific tasks, such as bridge construction and blacktopping, to local contractors in three segments of the total 51 kilometres, which are divided into 20 kilometres, 10 kilometres, and 21 kilometres respectively.

Chief engineer said that the construction of the 21-metre-long bridge, which is being carried out by local contractors, is nearing completion and is anticipated to be finished by the end of this month.

He noted that the initial segment of 20 kilometres of blacktopping was completed approximately a year ago. The second segment, spanning 10 kilometres, is on track to be finalised by the conclusion of April.

Nonetheless, the remaining 21 kilometres, which were assigned to a local contractor in April last year with an initial completion deadline set for March this year, encountered delays.

These delays stemmed from the contractor’s assertion of not receiving government clearance until November last year.

Chief engineer said that the contractor claimed to have received clearance only in November last year, with work commencing just a month and a half ago.

“We are anticipating completion by September and October this year. I have also urged the contractor to prioritise blacktopping in areas with settlement to alleviate dust for residents,” Brigadier Jaswinder Singh said.

Project Dantak has erected double-lane modular bridges at Tshaphel and Kana villages, accomplished within a swift three-month construction period.

Project Dantak intends to widen the 28-kilometre road from Chuzom to Dawakha with a proposed budget of Nu 1.5 billion.

The project currently employs 1,600 Indian workers and 1,400 national workers, with 900 of them being Bhutanese women.

Ensuring fair compensation, the project maintains a minimum salary of Nu 15,750, with plans for a 5 percent raise starting next month.

Project Dantak is also engaged in the construction of the 58-kilometres Samrang to Jomotshangkha highway, as well as the 17.5-kilometres stretches from Khotakpa to Tshobaley and Nganlam to Dewathang highway.

Bartsham farmers learn to go organic

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:06

Neten Dorji

Trashigang—Jamyang Phuntsho holds freshly harvested cabbage and cauliflower. These nutritious vegetables are grown organically, he declares.

Ecological farming practices are evident in every corner of Jamyang Phuntsho’s farm. Blue and red plastic buckets hold a concoction of animal urine, dung, leaves, and remnants of hot peppers, chicken manure, and eggshell powder—a homemade bio pesticide.

For the past five years, Jamyang has served as an ecological role model for farmers in surrounding villages. With technical support from the Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC) in Wengkhar, Mongar, he began producing biopesticides and implementing them on his farm.

Farmers make bio -pesticides from cow dung, urine, chicken manure, and plants

Jamyang highlighted that farmers in Bartsham have traditionally relied on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to control weeds and enhance crop production.

“I demonstrate to other farmers how to enhance their animal sheds to collect urine for fertilizing their fields, and I teach them the methods of composting and utilizing manure to enrich their soil,” explains Jamyang. “Just last month, a group of farmers from a neighbouring village visited my fields. They were highly impressed by the productivity, even without the need for irrigation.”

Jamyang and his wife are continuously learning. For seven years, they operated as cash crop farmers, cultivating vegetables with the aid of fertilizers. However, in 2019, Jamyang took advantage of an opportunity to attend farmer training. It didn’t take long for him to make the decision to transition to organic farming. Every day, they witness the benefits: a healthier diet for their family and a variety of produce to sell at the market.

“I used to use chemical pesticides in the past, and even though I made money at that time, my heart was not content. Now I feel accountable, and it brings me inner peace,”he claimed.

On the other side, Jamyang, claims that the Bartsham gewog is making every effort to assist organic farming. The primary source of income in this area is farming. As much aid as feasible has been offered by the gewog budget.

Consisting of 10 members, farmers have formed a group called the Happy Farmers Group, which advocates for organic farming in Bartsham. The recent training on the basics of organic farming has also enabled other farmers to learn techniques for improving organic farming practices.

Another farmer, Tandin Tshewang, said the training taught him the process of preparing pesticides and insecticides using local materials such as cow dung, cow urine, pepper, and cover of other fruit materials.

“It is laborious and challenging to make biopesticide production,”said Tandin Tshewang. “These are new concepts for farmers, and not many are keen, though it has many benefits.”

Farmers say they were using urea and phosphate fertilizers that are available in the market. “We used them to kill weeds without realising they also made our land infertile,” said one. “Using those fertilizers, you don’t have to worry as much about any crop failing.”

 

Challenges

Farmers have plans to stop using chemical fertilizers or pesticides in their crops or vegetables and gradually transition to organic farming. However, many farmers still debate making the switch to organic, fear of lower production.

Cheten Dorji, who is interested in going organic, said relearning how to farm in a way that supports greater biodiversity is exciting.

“Overall production varies a bit, and in some ways is lower than what used to produce. But I believe it will continue to increase over time as we keep learning new things and the land continues to adapt,”he said, adding that there are many challenges.

Happy Farmers Group aims to turn Bartsham village into a producer of organic vegetables in Trashigang.With the support from the Bhutan Foundation they constructed Wood Vinegar Extraction unit to produce organic compounds such as acetic acid, methanol, and phenols, among others to use in the field.

“We are trying to convey the use of biopesticides to other villagers,”said a group member. “Supporting organic farmers with training and budget is necessary, as farmers transition into organic practices.”

Challenges such as insufficient resources to meet their actual needs hinder farmers’ transition to organic farming. It is evident that some local farmers have chosen to abandon pure organic practices, even though they are aware of them.

Gewog Agriculture Extension Officer, Tshewang Norbu said that many farmers are not opting for organic farming due to the high costs involved and the perception of lower production associated with it.

“The haphazard use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has resulted in deleterious effects on human health as well as declined soil fertility, which has imbalanced natural ecosystems,” said Tshewang Norbu, adding that they are encouraging organic farming.

He said that the Department of Agriculture also encourages farmers to undertake organic farming, and be certified and registered as organic farmers if they are interested.

“Once certified and branded as organic, farm produce will have a better market,” he said.

 

The cost of progress?

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:04

That diabetes and hypertension continue to be the most prevalent non-communicable or the so-called life style diseases is not a surprise. What is astonishing, though, is that despite decades of awareness, policy interventions, and programmes aimed at steering Bhutanese away from these health risks, we are still wasting resources and lives to combat them.

The reports are alarming. Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, among Bhutanese increased to 30 percent from 27.2 in 2019. Health officials are ruing that the increase did not align with their goals – to lower it. They should not. The health ministry and successive governments have done their share in reducing, if not controlling, life style diseases.

To address the growing concern, numerous programmes were put in place, starting from preventing, screening, management and providing care. Some of the programmes, like the Diabetes Prevention and Care Programme, dates back to 2005. If it is going out of hand, the people are not cooperating or other policies are not in line with the programmes. As doctors often remind us, the patient holds some responsibility for their own cure.

If the increase is attributed to a rise in risk factors such as overweight, high blood pressure, unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle among the population, not many of us are putting efforts to turn the tide. Or perhaps it is the development in medicine and services that can keep patients alive through dialysis or kidney transplants. But this is a costly affairs when healthcare, including referrals, are free.

Or is the so-called progress taking a toll on our health. If the disposable income even among the average Bhutanese has increased, our dietary habits are poorer. We are spoilt for choice of food. Junk food, which was once a weekly treat, has become a habit. At every nook or corner of the capital, even in small towns, junk food outlets are numerous. The favourite snack among many is the oily chili chops or the payjees (fried snacks), some of them fried in repeatedly used oil.

On the other hand, consumption of fruits and vegetables among Bhutanese is declining at a huge rate. Some blame the price, especially imported fruits. While it is true that fruits are affordable only when local produce is available, fruits are unaffordable only when you buy it for the family. For someone who chew two Nu 50 packets of doma a day or drink two bottles of beer every evening, a basket full of fruits a week should be cheap.

Those aware of our rich food are changing. If they are out walking, jogging or cycling, the favourite suja is only a Sunday breakfast specialty. We cannot burn the salt and butter in it if after breakfast we are staying home watching TV or gossiping until lunch. Many are switching from rice to rotis, kharang or quinoa.

Non-communicable diseases were recognised as a problem a long time ago. There are policies and programmes in place. If these interventions are to work, we should understand and collaborate. Simple things like not damaging the public open air gym or switching to a healthier diet could help.

Nu 15 billion ESP success hinges on policy changes

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 16:04

Thukten Zangpo

For the success of Bhutan’s Nu 15 billion economic stimulus programme (ESP), the policy changes need to be considered, the country director of the Bhutan Resident Mission, Shamit Chakravarti, said.

The government has secured Nu 15 billion ESP with the support from India and the discussions are currently underway chaired by the prime minister.

Shamit Chakravarti said that the ESP with the combination of good policy would unlock the doors and allow credit to flow to the productive sectors and catalyse the private sector.

“The country faces the high youth unemployment and has a small private sector. It is only through the private sector that Bhutan will be able to generate jobs and broad-based growth.

“The Nu 15 billion ESP should go to catalyse the sectors that have been choked,” Shamit Chakravarti  said.

He said that most of the credit in the economy is in the non-enterprising sectors like commercial housing, tourism, and new special education loans.

The ESP should be channelled through credit to the productive sectors, Shamit Chakravarti said, adding that the credit to be disbursed in building tourism infrastructures in the fewer tourist regions, the agriculture sector which is suffering from distress with rural-urban migration, and cottage and small industries which are experiencing low productivity.

According to the finance ministry, the domestic credit was recorded at Nu 209.71 billion in fiscal year 2022-23, marking a 25.1 percent growth because of expansion in the housing and service sector credit.

The credit is estimated to increase by 18.3 percent in this fiscal year 2023-24 to Nu 248.06 billion.

The estimated growth in the sectoral credit is driven by housing with Nu 8.52 billion, hotel and tourism with Nu 4.95 billion, and manufacturing sector with Nu 4.14 billion, accounting for nearly 50 percent increase.

Along with pumping Nu 15 billion into the economy, Shamit Chakravarti said that there is a requirement for conducive policy reforms for the private sector growth.

Multiple factors are needed at policy level, he said, in terms of access to finance, ease of doing business, consistency and predictability of policies among others.

The government needs to review the licensing requirements and foreign direct investment restrictions on the private sector.

Suppose, a entrepreneur goes to a bank with a business proposal, most of the banks lack the capacity of evaluating it based on the merits and demerits, and there are also requirements of collateral for availing loans, which is not conducive for the private sector, Shamit Chakravarti said.

The government should also review the bankruptcy and insolvency laws.

“Bankruptcy law in Bhutan is modelled for larger enterprises. If a business go bankrupt because of exogenous factors, a business cannot reschedule the loans he owes to the bank,” Shamit Chakravarti said. “There are ways where insolvency law can be reformed and revised to make the equation between the banking sector and entrepreneurs less adversarial and more constructive.”

The government should also look into public-private partnership to finance infrastructure development and service delivery.

Currently, Shamit Chakravarti said that the private sector cannot compete with the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) because the government provides subsidies if they run into losses.

SOEs in Bhutan had an asset size of Nu 318 billion which was 180 percent of gross domestic product. However, it employed only 3 percent of the economy in 2021.

With the Nu 15 billion ESP, the government wants to inject in the banking sector, enabling loan deferments, reducing interest rates, and creating other loan schemes to boost the economy.

There are also plans to set up a special loan scheme to support special groups like farmers, women, youth, persons with disabilities, special investments for economic growth of rural areas, and creation of specialised credit windows dedicated for the cottage and small industries.

 

 

GBCL initiates restoration project at Habrang mine

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:04

Yangyel Lhaden

The Green Bhutan Corporation Limited (GBCL) is gearing up to embark on the first-ever mine restoration project in the country. The project will focus on restoring the Habrang coal mine located in Khateythang, Samdrupjongkhar.

The Habrang coal mine covers an area of 105.62 acres. Of the two blocks, Block A is already exhausted, while Block B is nearing depletion.

This mine is the first coal mine leased by the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) from the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) for a period of 10 years, starting from January 4, 2016.

At the time of its inception, the mine had a probable deposit of 600,000 metric tonnes (MT) and an average production of between 40,000 and 50,000 MT of coal per year.

The GBCL’s chief executive officer, Karma Jigme Temphel, said that the Corporation was preparing a plan for the restoration project according to the guidelines of the DGM. The plan will be presented to the SMCL and then submitted to the DGM for approval.

“Coal B is expected to be exhausted by the end of this year,” Karma Jigme Temphel said.

GBCL’s restoration plan encompasses several key steps. Initially, terraces will be constructed, and topsoil will be applied to the site. Following this, vegetation, such as grasses or native species found prior to coal extraction, will be planted to enhance site stability and promote long-term sustainability.

“Given that the coal extraction process has removed the topsoil, the soil in the area has become hardened,” said Karma Jigme Temphel. “To rehabilitate the land and mitigate the risk of soil erosion and landslides, it is important to add topsoil layer and construct terraces.”

In areas where constructing terraces is not feasible, particularly on steep slopes, geonets—drainage mesh material—will be used. In the small channels or valleys formed by running water, check dams will be constructed. Check dams serve as water-control structures to manage erosion and sedimentation.

“The overall objective of the restoration plan is to produce a landscape that is safe, stable and compatible with the surrounding landscape,” Karma Jigme Temphel said. “Surface mining may alter landscapes and cultural settings. Restoration plans must outline compatible post-mining land uses.”

The environmental assessment conducted at the Habrang coal mine site revealed that the area was sparsely forested, with only 8.5 acres covered by vegetation. The flora species identified included Sal, Hillock, Simul, Chilaune, Saj, Daubanga, and various shrubs.

As for fauna, animal traces indicated the presence of elephants, monkeys, wild boars, porcupines, and various snakes. However, no protected species were identified, except for elephants.

During the consultation meeting with stakeholders and the community, community members voiced concerns regarding drinking water access, irrigation, and the possibility of repurposing overburden land into recreational areas.

These issues were brought to the attention of GBCL for consideration and potential incorporation into the restoration plan.

At the two coal sites where two streams currently flow, GBCL has plans to divert these streams back to the community.

In response to community requests, GBCL plans to repurpose the overburden land into football and archery grounds.

These initiatives aim to address community concerns while also promoting recreational activities and enhancing community amenities.

“With this restoration project, GBCL is not seeking profit,” said Karma Jigme Temphel. “Our focus is on restoring the land and delivering high-quality work that benefits the community and the environment.”

Strengthening quinoa initiative for food security and sustainable agri-system

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:04

YK Poudel

Quinoa farming in Bhutan has been facing production, post-production, marketing and consumption challenges, demanding urgent attention.

A long-run strategy through stakeholder engagement, geographical indication process, technology and end-product management is underway.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) as the technical lead is carrying out the One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) initiative along with government agencies.

On April 3, representatives from FAO Bhutan, along with other stakeholders from 11 project countries convened a virtual gathering to launch a new project aimed at expanding the OCOP initiative.

National Agrifood and Investment Specialist of FAO Bhutan, Jigme Tenzin, said that the OCOP initiative is linked to a Hand-in-Hand investment forum with FAO as its technical lead.

“Under the Regional OCOP Technical Co-operation Project that supports three countries, Bhutan is focussing on marketing aspects,” Jigme Tenzin said.

The focus, he said, was on four major areas: stakeholder engagement through capacity building and technical processing. Geographical Indication (GI) will work on legislative framework development and Geographical Indication Environmental Sustainability (GIES) which will promote the unique value of the product considering environmental aspects.

“The GIES is an advanced marketing strategy that connects with the high-end market value,” he said.

End-product management, catering to the need for better recipe preparation, he added, is also under process to develop recipes blended into Bhutanese and Western cuisine. “Nutrient profiling and analysis study shall also be done for alternative feasibility.”

In Bhutan, Quinoa has been selected as the priority crop under the OCOP initiative to enhance food and nutritional security, to diversify the cropping and food basket.

Quinoa is a climate-resilient and versatile crop for diverse agroecology as well as a potential export crop for farmers.

Bhutan has also established Quinoa as one of the key National Commodity Programmes to harness its multi-dimensional benefits.

Quinoa was introduced by the erstwhile Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in 2015 with the support of FAO Bhutan to reduce the country’s nutritional gaps.

Dorji Rinchen, deputy chief economic development and marketing officer of the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC), said that the reasons for the decrease in the price of quinoa within a few years of its introduction were likely due to limited consumer awareness and demand.

“Despite efforts from the department to promote quinoa as a nutritious and versatile grain, widespread acceptance in Bhutanese households is taking time,” Dorji Rinchen said.

Without strong consumer demand, Dorji Rinchen said that prices were likely to decrease as suppliers compete for a limited market share. Competition from other grains, such as traditional staple rice and other Druna Gu cereals, further contributes to the pressure on quinoa prices, as consumers prefer these familiar grains over quinoa.

According to Dorji Rinchen, the department is leveraging various platforms to raise awareness about quinoa, including publications in the inflight magazine of Druk Air and Happiness Journal targeting foreigners visiting Bhutan.

“The department is collaborating with the De-Suung Skilling Program (DSP) to develop diverse quinoa recipes tailored to Bhutanese taste and preferences,” Dorji Rinchen said.

Short videos and booklets on the nutritional benefits of quinoa are also being produced.

 

Issues

Challenges such as limited consumer awareness, declining production, and fluctuating prices have affected quinoa’s popularity.

Production challenges encompass factors like limited access to high-yielding varieties, inadequate crop management practices, insufficient availability of fertilisers, and outdated farming technologies. Post-production and value-addition hurdles include constrained post-harvest handling, processing facilities, and limited integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the country. Marketing challenges revolve around a knowledge gap, restricted market access, insufficient policy support, and the absence of modern marketing technologies. Consumption challenges encompass such as food recipes, promotion policies, and awareness efforts, among others.

Records with the agriculture ministry show that, over the years, both the number of quinoa growers and the area under cultivation have been decreasing.

Data for 2022 shows 331 quinoa growers, with approximately 36 acres of land used across 18 dzongkhags resulting in an annual production of about 18 metric tonnes of quinoa.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 outlines a non-significant decrease in food insecurity in Asia, with 24.2 percent of the population facing moderate or severe food insecurity in 2022 compared with 24.5 percent in 2021.

 

Efforts

The OCOP initiative, a flagship programme of FAO, is designed to support member countries in transitioning to more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems through strengthened value chains of Special Agricultural Products (SAPs).

By promoting sustainable production, storage, processing, and marketing of selected SAPs, OCOP contributes to the development of smallholders and family farms, aligning with FAO’s Strategic Framework 2022-31 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Funded by the FAO Flexible Voluntary Contribution (FVC), the global project will end next year with a funding of USD 500,000.

Dorji Rinchen said that efforts and plans were underway to address these challenges and unlock the full potential of quinoa production in Bhutan.

“Quinoa’s potential to support food security in Bhutan extends beyond its nutritional value. As a climate-resilient crop, it offers a viable alternative to traditional staples and enhances the resilience of the agricultural sector to climate change,” he said.

Local quinoa recipe contests, aimed at encouraging farmers, are also being planned.

The department is looking at enhancing the export market in Singapore, Bangladesh, and India.

 

Future

In the 13th Five-Year Plan, the government strategised to enhance marketing opportunities for quinoa, primarily focusing on integrating quinoa into the School Feeding Programme.

“Currently, schools across the country consume an average of 6,921 metric tonnes of rice annually, amounting to Nu 291 million,” Dorji Rinched said. “To promote local quinoa production and create a more sustainable market, the department is proposing to replace five percent of this rice consumption with quinoa.”

A project initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock titled “Scaling the Implementation of OCOP Initiative” aims to bolster value-chain-based markets to elevate income levels, promote gender-responsive rural livelihoods, and generate employment opportunities. This endeavour is backed by a funding of USD 1 million in the region.

The Country Programming Framework for Bhutan has listed four priority interventions: evidence-based policy and planning, value chain and market-oriented agri-sector, carbon-neutral, and disaster-resilient RNR farming sector in Bhutan.

Strategies for Quinoa Production, Research and Development in Bhutan 2022 aims to identify factors that strengthen the production, research and development of quinoa for local and export markets and to provide suggestions for possible interventions at different levels from production to marketing, including policy related to quinoa.

Jigme Tenzin said that in the 13th Five-year Plan, relevant agencies would work towards the expansion of 4,000 acres of land for quinoa farming.

“Annual production target of 2,360 MT involving 4,000 households will be facilitated,” he said. “The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited processes four MT of quinoa per day, which will be increased to eight MT daily.”

Renewable Natural  Resources Strategy 2040 focuses on bringing an output ensuring food and a healthy environment, achieving food self-reliance, competitive agriculture value-chain and enhancing socio-economic wellbeing.

Since the launch of the OCOP in September 2021, over 85 members from all five FAO regions have expressed strong preliminary interest in promoting the green development of over 55 Special Agricultural commodities.

Bumdeling farmers find hope in green tea

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:02

Neten Dorji

Trashiyangtse—Small, but important steps are being made in processing Bamdir green tea in Bumdeling Gewog, Trashiyangtse, with funding support from various agencies focusing on improving the livelihoods of the people.

The infrastructure consists of a production unit, product display unit, approach road, compound fencing, electrification, and water supply, all of which were constructed.

Bamdir’s Green Tea Coordinator, Namsey, is optimistic about the group’s ability to generate income, especially considering the dwindling yields of traditional crops such as potatoes and the renowned chilli variety, Urkabangala.

The Unit produces three varieties of herbal tea

“Our main sources of income have been chilli and potatoes, but their production is diminishing each year. Green tea production presents a promising alternative for the people of Bamdir and Wogmana,” Namsey explained.

Members said that, given the challenges posed by their primary crops, embracing green tea production could present a practical solution to sustain their livelihoods and stimulate economic development in the villages.

Dema, a group member, emphasized that collaborating with the group provides a lucrative opportunity. “Engaging in green tea production offers a promising income stream for us, given the availability of resources in the region,” she said. “Dependence on a single source of income presents numerous challenges for us.”

She said that Ngeshing Jorma, derived from Mistletoe (Viscum L.), a parasitic plant, is utilized in the preparation of suja. It is either added to water or consumed directly as a beverage.

The Ngeshing Jorma tea is made from the parasitic plant Viscum napalense and other species of Visum available in the local areas. Viscum is recognised as one of the most important non-wood forest products in the village. Products of Viscum are known to have health benefits such as treating bone fractures, backaches, and rheumatic pains.

The Unit produces three varieties of herbal tea: Hypericum herbal tea, Viscum herbal tea, and Mint herbal tea. These natural herbs are known to possess medicinal benefits according to local users, although no scientific research has been conducted on their benefits.

Local communities are expected to benefit from the herbal processing unit through income generation by making the best use of the aforesaid natural herbs through sustainable harvesting, as well as through job opportunities.

Another member of the group, Yeshi Lhamo, noted that many farmers in the villages started cultivating Hypericum tea (known locally as Sonam Choe Jha), attributing this to the park’s provision of fencing support.

“Despite facing numerous challenges, we are hopeful that once the business is established well, we can generate opportunities within the village,”said Yeshi, adding that unemployed local youths are rising annually.

People hold the belief that consuming herbal tea offers various benefits such as improving cardiovascular health, alleviating stress and anxiety, boosting resistance to colds, and assisting in the management of respiratory issues.

Farmers expressed concerns about relying solely on chilli and potatoes for income, highlighting the risks involved. The unpredictability of earnings from these crops in recent years has underscored their unreliability. Many farmers believe that transitioning to another cash crop is the only viable option.

“Instead of waiting for an alternative source of income, we decided to try now and explore herbal tea production,”said a farmer, Rinzin Dorji.

If the Bamdir Green Tea processing goes well, the group has plans to collect tea leaves from farmers, allowing them to earn money in return.

“The income generated from the herbal tea venture will enable the group to expand its activities, including scaling up tea cultivation,” said Namsey. “Additionally, this income will facilitate offering loans to members in need at reduced interest rates.”

The Queen’s project, Bhutan for Life (BFL) and GEF- Ecotourism (UNDP) funded the project with Nu 4.407million. Through Queen’s project, members also received hands-on training on machinery operation, packaging and marketing support.

Wogmana-Bomdir Tshogpa, Pema Dorji, said that this intervention aims to enhance livelihoods within the communities. “Many residents lack access to wetlands compared to others and are economically disadvantaged,” he said. “I hope that this initiative will generate significant income and contribute to poverty alleviation in the village.”

 

Bar Council AGM advocates access to justice for all

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:01

Thinley Namgay

Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck graced the opening ceremony of the inaugural annual general meeting (AGM) of the Bar Council of Bhutan (BCB) in Paro on Wednesday.

HRH is the President of the BCB.

With the theme, “Enhancing Access to Justice for All”, the three-day AGM saw 60 lawyers from private legal firms and relevant institutions.

As the maiden AGM since the establishment of BCB in 2017, many participants said it was timely and relevant.

HRH said the lawyers played a crucial yet often underappreciated role in upholding the rule of law and facilitating justice around the country.

“The legal landscape in Bhutan is continuously evolving; staying relevant is more important than ever,” HRH said, adding that lawyers must learn to adapt to emerging technologies and embark on innovative solutions through cross-sectoral collaborations.

The AGM is aimed at increasing access to justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and sensitising the members on the need to render pro bono services, especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

The meeting will review the current state of the legal profession, including its roles in the justice delivery system, and fostering collaboration and cooperation within the legal profession.

It is being organised to sensitise the members on the rules of professional conduct, an essential component for maintaining public trust in the legal profession.

Khurshid Alam, deputy resident representative of UNDP Bhutan, quoting the president of Singapore, said: “If we allow people to lose, we all end up losing.”

He said that the justice sector had a major role to play in uplifting the lives of people from the fragmented and polarised world.

At the end of the three-day meeting, the participants are expected to learn about some of the crucial legal areas such as inclusive justice for children, women, and persons with disabilities (PwDs), legal aid rules and pro bono guidelines, and legal challenges and opportunities in Bhutan, among others.

BCB vice president, Rinzin Penjor, said, “We pledge to work diligently for the advancement of the legal system to ensure that justice is accessible to all citizens, especially for the vulnerable groups such as PwDs, women, and children.”

The AGM, he said, was for the united purpose, adding that the lack of implementation is the primary issue in the justice sector despite meetings, seminars, and workshops.

He said lawyers and constitutional institutions should conduct thorough research on a case before presenting it to the court to ensure justice.

The AGM is organised by the BCB and UNDP Bhutan.

Diabetes and hypertension cases continue to rise

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:01

Jigmi Wangdi

Diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) continue to be among the most prevalent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) identified in the country.

A study conducted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) indicates that the increase in blood sugar levels in 2023 has risen to approximately five percent.

This is in comparison to the data from the STEPs surveys conducted in 2014 and 2019, which reported rates of 1.9 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Hypertension among Bhutanese was identified at approximately 27.2 percent in the 2019 STEPs survey. However, the ministry observed an increase to 30 percent in 2023.

Laigden Dzed, chief programme officer at the Department of Public Health, MoH, said that while there was not a significant leap in the trend, it did not align with the ministry’s goals. “We aim for lower rates.”

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor has also increased.

“The prevalence of adult population with increased cholesterol levels has gone up from 11.5 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2023. This rising trend is a huge challenge,” Laigden said.

Other risk factors include obesity, as well as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

“The consumption of fruits and vegetables has decreased from 85 percent to 74 percent,” Laigden Dzed said. “Regarding hypertension, Bhutanese consume more salt, exceeding the World Health Organization’s recommendation of five grams.”

Although many people know about the NCDs to a certain degree, 65 percent of the population do not know that they are hypertensive and 43 percent of the population is not aware of diabetes, according to the 2019 study.

Interventional cardiologist, Dr Mahesh Gurung, said that from the 250 patients that have been treated at the Cath lab in JDWNRH, around 100 patients underwent angioplasty.

“Sixty-four percent of the patients had hypertension and 24 percent had diabetes,” Dr Mahesh said, adding that globally, the prevalence of diabetes cases has increased from 211.2 million in 1990 to 476 million in 2017, an increase by 129.7 percent.

Hypertension is one of the main causes of CVDs. Globally, hypertension in adults aged 30 to 79 years was 32 percent in women and 34 percent in men in 2019.

The relevance of drungkhags

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:00

It  has not been talked about publicly, but it seems there is an important review in process on the relevance of the drungkhags or sub districts in the country.

Three of the 15 drungkhag: Weringla in Mongar, Thrimshing in Trashigang, and Sombaykha in Haa are currently without the administrator, the drungpa. Their appointment will depend on the outcome of the review. Some are already conclusive of the relevance, at least going by a locally elected leader, when he hinted that the drungpa is a powerless figure.

Like officials said, improved connectivity, both roads and telecommunications, and digitalisation of  most public services has changed how public service is delivered. Drunkhags were created in the past in the big dzongkhags or in dzongkhags where connectivity made public service delivery difficult. It was to help people avail service without having to visit the dzongkhag headquarters, some of which required days of travel.

For instance, people of Weringla and Thrimsihing would have to walk to the nearest road point to then travel to Trashigang Dzong where the dzongkhag administration is located. Today besides telecommunications, farm roads and gewog roads crisscross the drungkhags.

The way the government runs its overall governance machinery has improved by leveraging ICT since the government launched the E- Government master plan as a catalyst for change a decade ago.

More importantly, if the head or the drungpa is without any decision making or financial authority, and therefore irrelevant, it is time we relook into the need of the post. Unlike the idea of merging the 205 gewogs that hit a wall even with research and study recommending merger, the drungpa is not an elected local government official. At least there is no political pressure unlike the elected gewog officials who are seen as influential in parliamentary elections.

If the function of the drungkhag is also to provide administrative assistance to the dzongkhag administration by supporting the gewogs, there is already a recommendation to merge the 205 gewogs to 101.  A  detailed report on the gewog merger is already on the Cabinet shelves and was presented to parliamentarians. The previous government even recommended amending the Local Government Act.

From the way drungkhas without drungpas are run today, the service is not affected. It is said that only human resource related power is delegated to the drungpa.

There is already a recommendation to close five to six drungkhag offices in the interior dzongkhags. Some drungkhags are important from a security point of view.  Meanwhile,   the relevance of the drungkhags will be reviewed during the local government restructuring exercise as part of the civil service transformation.

This makes it easier as the transformation exercise has already led to the merger of ministries, departments and closure of divisions. In some places, like in Sarpang, the transformation could mean even doing away with constituencies for parliamentary elections in the near future.

Economy to see 4.4% growth this year: ADB

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 14:00

Thukten Zangpo

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has projected that Bhutan’s economy would grow to 4.4 percent this year and 7 percent next year, in its Asian Development Outlook released yesterday,

This growth, the Bank said, would be mainly driven by the service and energy sector growth.

However, the projection is still lower than the finance ministry’s recent projection of 5.68 percent growth this year.

The economics officer of the Bhutan Resident Mission, ADB, Sonam Lhendup, said that the growth of the services sector would serve as a foundation for this year’s economic growth, along with anticipated increased hydropower generation in 2025.

The Bank projected that the services sector is expected to grow by 6.5 percent, driven by a surge in tourist arrivals reaching 60 percent of the 2019 level. Industry is expected to rebound to 2.5 percent, excluding the construction sector. The recently commissioned Nikachhu hydropower plant, operational since early this year, is also poised to contribute to the overall economic growth.

However, the Bank anticipates that the loan moratorium on construction and the slow start of activities under the 13th Plan could impede the construction sector, leading to a projected decline of 2.2 percent this year. The agriculture growth, according to the Bank, could slow down to 1.4 percent.

Sonam Lhendup said that the growth forecast of seven percent in 2025 would be primarily fuelled by the service and hydropower sectors.

The Bank foresees a 5.7 percent growth from the service sector, supported by steady tourist arrivals.

He also said that the industry output was forecast at 15.6 percent in 2025 because of growth in electricity and construction of the 600-megawatt Kholongchhhu hydropower plant in 2025.

The commissioning of the Punatsangchhu-II in the same year, he added, is expected to contribute an additional 5 percentage points to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2024.

According to the Bank, India’s robust growth is also expected to boost Bhutan’s economy through increased exports of goods and services, given the strong ties between the two nations.

The Bank projected India’s economy to grow at 7 percent in fiscal year 2024 and 7.2 percent in fiscal year 2025.

For 2023, the Bank estimated a lower economic growth rate of 4 percent, lower than the initial forecast of 4.7 percent.

Sonam Lhendup said that this estimate was reduced by 0.7 percentage points due to the poor performance in the construction and energy sectors.

However, the service sector experienced robust growth, estimated at 9.4 percent, primarily due to a rebound in tourism. Meanwhile, agriculture saw a slower growth of 1.3 percent, influenced by erratic rainfall patterns.

The Bank projected inflation to reach 4.5 percent in 2024 and then ease to 4.2 percent in 2025, compared to 4.2 percent the previous year.

Sonam Lhendup said that inflation climbed due to the increase in civil servants’ salaries in 2023 and that it was anticipated to further rise with the expected hike in salaries for non-governmental organisations’ employees and the ongoing global supply chain crisis this year.

According to the Bank, the fiscal balance is projected to narrow to 8.3 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2024 due to a decrease in government revenue from grants and transfers. It is expected to improve to 2.4 percent of GDP in 2025, driven by an enhanced flow of grants and transfers, as well as hydro-earnings. The fiscal balance had narrowed to 0.3 percentage points of GDP in fiscal year 2023.

The Bank forecasts that the current account deficit (CAD), which narrowed to 25.2 percent due to improvements in net imports in 2023, is expected to worsen to over 28 percent of GDP in 2024. This is attributed to a growing trade deficit with India as Bhutan begins implementing the 13th Plan. However, the CAD is anticipated to improve with a surge in hydro-exports in 2025.

Tobacco use kills over 400 every year

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 13:39

Jigmi Wangdi

Consumption of tobacco products claims the lives of over 400 individuals each year in Bhutan, according to data from 2019. This results in significant financial burdens, with healthcare costs amounting to approximately Nu 209 million.

The value associated with the loss of life due to tobacco-related deaths is estimated at Nu 712 million.

This is according to a report titled Investment Case for Tobacco Control in Bhutan, which was completed in collaboration with WHO, UNDP, the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), and the Ministry of Health.

The report specifies six key policies of the WHO FCTC that would enable Bhutan to reduce the burden that comes with the use of tobacco.

In 2019, tobacco use in Bhutan caused around Nu 1.2 billion in economic losses. These losses are equivalent to 0.7 percent of Bhutan’s gross domestic product (GDP).

According to the WHO STEPwise approach to surveillance (STEPS) survey conducted in 2019, 24 percent of the population aged 15-60 currently use tobacco products, out of which 10.6 percent use smoked tobacco, 14.5 percent use smokeless tobacco and 1.4 percent use both.

Men, according to the report, are almost three times more likely to use tobacco products than women.

The report also found a higher prevalence of smoking among younger age groups (14.9 percent of those 15-24 years old compared to 3.5 percent of those 55-69 years old), while smokeless tobacco use is higher among older age groups (17.6 percent of those 55-69 years old compared to 8.8 percent of those 15-24 years old).

The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) revealed that in 2019, 22 percent of students aged 13-15 years old reported tobacco use. This figure breaks down to 31 percent among boys and 13.5 percent among girls.

More than 4 in 10 cigarette smokers in Bhutan stated that they began smoking between the ages of 12-13 years old.

How WHO FCTC policies can help Bhutan?

If the government were to implement the six policy actions recommended by the WHO FCTC, the report highlighted that Bhutan would significantly change the burden on tobacco in the next 15 years (2023 to 2037).

According to the report, if Bhutan was to implement the modelled WHO FCTC measures, it would prevent more than 1,200 deaths, with approximately 80 deaths prevented annually, save Nu 411 million in healthcare expenditures and prevent Nu 1.3 billion in losses due to tobacco-attributable mortality.

It would also generate economic benefits of Nu 2.3 billion, which would significantly outweigh the costs of Nu 330 million of implementation and enforcement, a 7:1 return on investment, the report suggests.

The report says that implementing the six WHO FCTC policy actions could reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking, relatively by 34 percent over 15 years. It could also result in Bhutan avoiding 17 percent of the economic loss that is expected to occur from tobacco use in the next 15 years.

In total, the report stated that Bhutan would save around Nu 2.3 billion which could otherwise be lost.

The six policy actions of the WHO FCTC are: increasing tobacco taxation, creating smoke-free public places and workplaces to protect people from the harms of tobacco smoke, requiring graphic warning labels on tobacco product packages, implementing plain packaging of tobacco products, promoting and strengthening public awareness of tobacco control issues, including the health risks of tobacco use, and promoting quitting of tobacco use and treatment for tobacco dependence by training health professionals to provide brief advice to quit tobacco use.

According to the Bhutan Trade Statistic 2023, Bhutan imported tobacco products valued at a total of Nu 542 million.

Bhutan Health Research Portal Launched

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 13:36

Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Health, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), launched the Bhutan Health Research Portal (BHRP) on April 9.

According to the WHO Bhutan, the platform offers a unique opportunity to streamline research governance by facilitating online submissions and approvals and to track research projects.

It added that BHRP will have immense benefits, where online processing will ensure that research proposals are reviewed and approved efficiently. The platform will inform investment in health research, including optimal allocation.

Research reports and protocols will be housed in a central repository, providing a valuable knowledge base to inform future research priorities.

The BHRP will also foster effective use of research evidence in health planning and policy formulation.

Director of the Department of Public Health at the Ministry of Health, Karma Jamtsho, said that the BHRP will play a role in building the health-related research capacity of healthcare workers and promoting a research ecosystem in Bhutan.

The WHO Representative to Bhutan, Dr Bhupinder Kaur Aulakh, commended the health ministry for this important initiative. She emphasized on the WHO’s commitment to promote health research and use of research evidence to inform policy and planning.

 

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