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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 52 min 46 sec ago

Arts students in dire strait

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:19

KP Sharma

As class 10 graduate students across the country prepare to enrol in Class 11, those qualifying to pursue Arts stream find themselves in a dilemma. The admission criteria allow them to pursue only Arts, while the Arts stream has been discontinued in some tertiary education colleges, and even scholarships reduced.   

The ministry says that it will strictly adhere to the admission criteria for each stream to ensure that students take courses by their academic achievements.

As per the ministry’s criteria, students planning to pursue science must have a minimum of 45 percent in mathematics and 55 percent in science, with 51 percent each in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Those interested in studying commerce should have a minimum of 40 percent in mathematics, and students holding pass certificates are directed to enrol in the arts stream.  

As a result, going by this criteria, many students by default, would end up opting for Arts stream leading to concerns of discouragement and demotivation. But following the discontinuation of Arts courses in some tertiary education colleges and a reduction in the number of ex-country scholarships to art students this year, parents and students were hesitating to enrol in the Arts stream, being concerned about their future opportunities.

Then there was widespread speculation among the public that the ministry would consider allowing students to choose streams based on their interests and prospects.

Sangay Thinley, a class 10 graduate in Thimphu said that when students choose arts despite being aware of limited opportunities, it could foster disparity and stigmatization of Arts students within the school. 

“How can teachers effectively encourage these students to study hard when the perception of limited opportunities already exists?” he said.

Leki Tshering, a recent class 10 graduate in Chukha, said that it is unwise for decision-makers to discontinue certain courses while simultaneously encouraging students to enrol in courses that directly impact their future.

An Arts teacher stated that following the discontinuation of cut-off points, low-achieving students typically opt for arts. This posed a challenge for teachers, as these students often lacked interest in their studies and joined schools merely to enhance their qualifications.

The teacher added that now dealing with students who already feel hopeless can be challenging, making it hectic for teachers to motivate them and achieve good academic results.

“In the end, individual subject performance is crucial for teacher’s evaluation,” he said. 

Earlier, an official from the education and skills development ministry said that despite encouraging students to take up mathematics and raising awareness about the true prospects, no major changes have been implemented so far.  

The decision to discontinue the course was part of a broader transformation, impacting certain student sections at a considerable cost. 

Unlike in the past, the government will not offer scholarships to private schools. 

With a new government in power, there is an expectation among the public for the government to address these issues for the greater benefit of the people.

While the government had issued directives to address various issues confronting the education sector, it was uncertain if the matter regarding Arts course would also be included. 

Private sector proposes Better Business Council

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:17

…licensing regulations, access to finance and market, tax regulations, among others, were discussed

Thukten Zangpo

Private sector representatives have proposed to initiate a Better Business Council to make a conducive business environment during the review on business regulatory process consultative meeting at the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Thimphu yesterday.

The meeting was held in response to the executive order issued by the government to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment. The meeting’s objective is to submit recommendations to the ministry and then to the Cabinet by March 1. 

To improve the business environment, a member expressed to initiate a Better Business Council where an equal representation from the private sector and relevant agencies can convene meetings once every month. 

He added that the Economic Development Board which is chaired by the Prime Minister has only one representation from the private sector and the Board would not be able to tackle issues businesses face. 

The government in 2014 stated to set up a Better Business Council, which was supposed to begin functioning as an autonomous agency in July 2014 was never operationalised. 

A BCCI study found that the business sector lost an estimated Nu 125.81 billion from the economic down-turn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Emphasising collaboration and synergy, the members highlighted three crucial domains for feedback to the government: general economic development policies, business regulatory procedures, and policymaking processes and consultations.

In the first domain, stakeholders can provide insights into prevailing economic policies such as the Economic Development Policy, Financial Incentives Act, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy, and Public Private Partnership Policy, among others. 

Regarding the review of business regulatory processes, the private sector identified key areas, including licensing regulations, manpower or labour regulations, access to finance, market accessibility, tax regulations, and service delivery. 

Over 100 existing policies, rules, and regulations were slated for comprehensive review and streamlining by respective sector associations.

One of the main issues highlighted at the meeting yesterday was on discrepancies in Mineral Development Policy regarding export royalties, where the policy states that the government should levy lower royalty for in-country value addition and use. 

However, this has not been the case so far.   

Another issue raised was on FDI policy which is impeding the investors’ attraction. The policy states that the purchase of capital goods in convertible currency where foreign investor’s share of equity is insufficient to meet the total requirement provided, the convertible currency amount should not exceed the local investor’s share of equity. 

With the limited provision on convertible currency, the members expressed that the convertible currency is not adequate.  

The members also expressed the need to rationalise the tax system by exempting tax on dividends since Bhutanese companies are faced with a higher tax burden with multiple tax systems especially in terms of dividends. 

The businesses also proposed fast-tracking issuance of environmental clearance since there is delay in issue of clearances. 

The recommendations also include the Bhutan Standard Bureau to ensure quality control of standards.

“This underscores the government’s commitment to bolstering the private sector,” BCCI’s President Tandy Wangchuk said. “We eagerly anticipate a transformative shift in regulatory mechanisms, crucial for the country’s economic advancement.”

Identifying existing bottlenecks and barriers, Khampa, project manager of the Voice for Green Change Partnership (V4GCP), affirmed that the commitment to deliver actionable recommendations for enhancing Bhutan’s better business ecosystem. 

The consultation meeting was facilitated by the V4GCP project funded by the European Union and led by Handicrafts Association of Bhutan.

Combating HIV stigma remains a challenge

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:16

Jigmi Wangdi

People living with HIV (PLHIV) in Bhutan still face stigmatisation and discrimination, according to a report in the Bhutan Health Journal.

A recent study which explored the perceived stigma, discrimination, and psychological well-being among people living with HIV (PLHIV) found that 43 percent of them were subject to stigma and discrimination.  

Nidup Dorji, Tshering Dukpa, Tshering Wangmo, and Wangchuk from Gesar Gyalpo University of Health Sciences’ public health department and Phuntsho Choden of the Evaluation Association of Bhutan published the report in November 2023.

The report stated that HIV/AIDS is one of the most stigmatised medical conditions and a serious public health challenge in the country.

“HIV-related stigma and discrimination poses greater challenges to PLHIV and remains a major obstacle in curbing the HIV epidemic worldwide,” the report stated.

Despite vigorous advocacy and awareness campaigns, HIV-related stigma and discrimination are still prevalent in Bhutanese society influencing psychological well-being among PLHIV, the report stated.

Since the detection of the first cases of HIV infection in Bhutan in 1993, the collective number of cases as of December 2022 was 874 (456 males and 428 females), mostly (93.8 percent) acquired HIV through the heterosexual route, according to the study.  

Since the first reported cases of HIV infection in Bhutan in 1993, the cumulative number of cases stood at 874 by December 2022, with 93.8 percent acquired through heterosexual transmission. The study, which included 28 PLHIV participants, identified community, family members, relatives, and healthcare providers as potential sources of stigma and discrimination.

Participants recounted instances of discrimination from their communities, families, and even healthcare settings. Examples included discriminatory remarks from villagers, warnings to parents about disease status, and job loss due to HIV status disclosure. Such experiences, particularly from family and community members, significantly impact the psychological well-being of PLHIV.

The study identified three key themes that aid PLHIV in coping with stigma and discrimination: introspection, support from family, relatives, and friends, and meditation/mindfulness. Acceptance and support from families and communities are crucial in motivating PLHIV to seek diagnosis and treatment services effectively.

However, fear of HIV transmission and misconceptions among healthcare providers can lead to differential treatment of PLHIV. The study highlights the urgent need for rigorous training to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination among healthcare professionals.

Executive Director of Lhak-Sam, Wangda Dorji acknowledged a decrease in stigmatisation and discrimination against PLHIV compared to the past. “But it is very much prevalent today.”

He said that cultural and religious factors contribute to stigma, with past portrayals of HIV/AIDS as a deadly disease perpetuating fear and misconceptions.

He emphasises the importance of continuous advocacy, highlighting the challenges posed by limited funding. Rigorous campaigns and innovative interventions, including social media and face-to-face interactions, are necessary to combat stigma and discrimination effectively.

The study echoes the need for intensified advocacy efforts, suggesting that traditional methods alone, such as posters and stickers, are insufficient to address critical issues like stigma and discrimination.

The researchers recommend strengthening platforms for discourse on these topics and call on the Ministry of Health to facilitate consultations with relevant stakeholders to develop workplace policies and lobby for anti-discriminatory legislation.

Tyre expert’s transformative journey

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:14

Yangyel Lhaden

A car arrives at Zamlha Automobile Workshop in Tsirang, and the owner wants to swap out the worn tyres for two new ones. The tire expert, Shibu Raj Pradhan, comes over. In addition to asking for a tyre change, the owner brings up changing the brake pads.

Shibu Raj Pradhan gathers his tools and gets to work. He starts by loosening the screws with a wrench, then employs a hydraulic jack to lift the car and opens the tires. Bringing out the new tyres, he places the old tyre on a machine designed to remove the metal frame, and then skillfully attaches the new tire onto the frame.

Once done, he fills the tire with air, meticulously checking the pressure with his seasoned hands. To ensure a proper seal, he closes his eyes to shield them from dust, then spits on the tyre to check for any escaping air bubbles. Finally, he reinstalls the car with the new tyres and replaces the brake pads.

Shibu Raj Pradhan’s journey into the world of car mechanics began unexpectedly at the age of eleven. Alongside fourteen friends, he left Lhamoizhingkha with only Nu 1,000 in hand. This journey eventually led him to become the highly skilled mechanic sought after at Zamlha’s automotive hub today.

Shibu Raj Pradhan’s path took a turn due to a distressing incident during his schooling years. When he and his friends were denied their school result certificates, they discovered that their headmaster had burned them. This was in the early 1990s. This injustice led to a confrontation, resulting in Shibu Raj Pradhan and his friends fleeing their hometown to avoid arrest.

For over a month, they survived in the forest, relying on its resources for sustenance. Eventually, they stumbled upon Gedu, where they encountered a contractor who offered them work. For the first time in many days, they got proper food. “I bought Nu 500 worth of food, and we all shared.”

After completing their duties, they continued their journey. Shibu Raj Pradhan eventually settled in Paro.

In Paro, Shibu Raj Pradhan initially worked in a bakery but transitioned to mechanics upon the advice of an Indian mechanic named Abdul. Despite the lower pay, Shibu Raj Pradhan embraced the profession, learning various skills from his mentor, Guruji. Despite regrets about not being able to pursue formal education, Shibu Raj Pradhan finds fulfillment in his profession.

“I wanted to study. The past incident still tears me up; for no fault of mine I had to give up education. But I am happy that in my faith, I got to learn this profession,” says Shibu Raj Pradhan.

With two daughters, Shibu Raj Pradhan prioritises their education and dreams of establishing an automobile workshop in his village one day. He emphasises the importance of embracing learning, especially in a field like mechanics, which continually evolves with technology.

Shibu Raj Pradhan encourages the younger generation not to shy away from getting their hands dirty, offering to mentor and even pay those willing to learn. His aspirations reflect a desire to pass on his knowledge and expertise while ensuring a sustainable future for his profession.

Waiting for a smooth ride to Sakteng

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:14

Neten Dorji

Trashigang—The residents of Sakteng are disappointed that the blacktopping work on the Sakteng gewog connectivity (GC) roads has not been completed even after a year of missing the deadline.

The highlanders were even more frustrated as neither the dzongkhag nor the gewog administration was willing to tell them why the work was delayed, while the contractor of the work kept missing deadlines.

The blacktopping work from Dogorom to Sonadrang, spanning 31 km, was awarded to the contractor in a single package valued approximately at Nu 91.38 million. However, the blacktopping work was delayed due to the outbreak of Coivd-19 pandemic.

Sakteng Gup, Tshewang Tshering, said the road improvement will benefit about 260 households in Sakteng Gewog, and the parts of Bidung and Phongemy gewogs. 

Sakteng Gewog was connected with a motorable road in 2018, positively transforming the community. There are more than 30 Bolero pickups today in the community, among other vehicles.

“In the past, the poor condition of the road during monsoon made it difficult to take our products to the market, and the transportation cost was high,” said Dorji Wangdi, a 66-year-old resident of Sakteng.

Without the blacktopped road, vehicles found it difficult to travel during the monsoon season. The well-maintained road with GSB and blacktopping will benefit the residents in the gewog with a clean and safe environment to work, travel, and live in, a highlander said. 

“The accessibility to markets is now more realistic for my people, but we are worried about work progress,” Gup Tshewang Tshering said. “The travel time would be reduced by half which means it will now take only two hours to transport their produce to Trashigang market.”

The update on the work progress was that the base course had been completed, and all the raw materials, including the aggregates and bitumen, were at the site. However, the completed portion of the work was bemoaned of poor quality.

A highlander Pema Dorji said gravel has already come out of the road between Sonadrang and Yadrang area although it’s been only a few months after the blacktopping work was carried out.

“The work is poorly done and the contractor should redo the work. We do not know the standards, but ordinary people like us know it is of poor quality.”

He said they have approached local leaders to maintain quality by the contractor.  “The quality of the road should be monitored,” he said. 

Mangmi Dema Tshering said the gewog administration would wait and see the situation of the road for some time.

“We haven’t reported the matter to any relevant authority expecting the contractor would hand it over to us in good condition. But if the road is in a condition that requires maintenance, we will not be taking over the road,” he said.

According to dzongkhag officials, the blacktopping work was scheduled to be completed by the end of February 2024. However, they were in doubt if the deadline would be met given the slow work progress.  

 “We are visiting the site to monitor the quality of blacktopping work,” an official said. 

Meanwhile, given their unique semi-nomadic lifestyle, culture, and scenic valleys, the smooth road was expected to facilitate an increasing number of visitors to the exotic Sakteng. 

Fighting Stigma

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:11

Three decades after the emergence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as a manageable disease with proper medication, individuals living with HIV in our country continue to grapple with stigma and discrimination.

A recent study has shed light on HIV/AIDS as one of the most stigmatized medical conditions, posing a significant public health challenge in our society. Such stigma not only presents obstacles to the well-being of people living with HIV (PLHIV) but also hampers efforts to curb the HIV epidemic globally.

Education emerges as a significant factor, with those possessing some level of education reporting a higher quality of life compared to those without formal education, according to the study. Moreover, individuals in stable marital relationships with strong family support exhibit better overall well-being, contrasting with those facing lower incomes and weaker social support structures.

Since 1993, Bhutan reported a total of 874 HIV cases, with approximately 70 percent occurring among economically productive age groups. Despite extensive awareness campaigns, unprotected sex remains the primary mode of transmission, contributing to a steady rise in HIV/AIDS cases over the years.

Fighting HIV/AIDS remains a formidable challenge, with frontline advocates acknowledging improvements in awareness but also highlighting persistent problems. Cultural and religious factors continue to fuel stigma, perpetuating fear and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. We must educate the public, beginning within families, to dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. Rather than viewing HIV/AIDS as a deadly disease, it is crucial to understand it as a manageable condition akin to other illnesses like diabetes.

The consequences of ongoing stigma and discrimination are profound, directly impacting the detection of new cases and hindering efforts to combat the epidemic. According to those working with people with HIV/AIDS, social stigma remains a primary reason why individuals with HIV/AIDS avoid testing and conceal their status.

Traditional advocacy methods, such as posters and stickers, are inadequate in addressing the complex issues of stigma and discrimination. There is a pressing need to intensify advocacy efforts, leveraging new platforms like social media, while also advocating for workplace policies and anti-discriminatory legislation.

We need to collectively challenge stigma and discrimination, fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and support for individuals living with the virus. Only through concerted efforts can we create a more inclusive and compassionate society where all individuals, regardless of their HIV status, are treated with dignity and respect.

Medical centers and labour agent suspended and slapped fines

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 02:11

… deliberately manipulating medical  test results

Lhakpa Quendren

Gelephu—Two medical screening centers and a labour agent in Gelephu were suspended from doing business for breaching medical protocols by deliberately providing false results for Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) tests of two foreign workers.

The New Life Diagnostic Center, Druk Diagnostic Center, and Songtse Labour Agent were found to have tampered with HBsAg test results of  two Bangladeshi workers, who traveled from Paro to Gelephu with a road permit, and stayed in Gelephu.

The Bhutan Qualifications and Professionals Certification Authority (BQPCA) investigated the matter and, considering its criminal nature, referred the case to the Gelephu police.

New Life Diagnostic Center reported positive HBsAg results for two workers, but at the request of the Songtse Labour Agent, the results were not uploaded to the national database. The labor agent requested the center to alter the positive results to the negative, stating that the agent had incurred significant expenses for their travel.

While HBsAg is not an airborne disease, it can be transmitted through physical interaction, posing a risk to the community or individuals and potentially leading to an increase in HBsAg-positive cases.

The foreigners who tested positive for HBsAg came as food quality inspectors for orange export were among the 13 clients tested at the New Life Diagnostic Center on November 26, 2023.

The investigation revealed that Tshering Zangmo, the wife of the proprietor of Songtse Labour Agent, requested Phul Maya, the accountant of New Life Diagnostic Center, to keep the test result status pending after it tested positive.

The proprietor of the agent, Nirmal Chettri, also alleged influencing the proprietor of the New Life Diagnostic Center to change the report from positive to negative.

When the two foreign workers returned to the agent’s office for a re-check in another diagnostic center, the labor coordinator of Songtse Labour Agent, Rajesh Gurung escorted them to Druk Diagnostic Center to avoid getting caught.

Songtse Labor Agent subjected the two foreign workers to a second diagnostic test at a different center. However, the center was not informed that these tests were to confirm the initial positive HBsAg results.

Druk Diagnostic Centre issued the results as negative, which were found to be false upon verification at different centers, including the Rabgay Diagnostic Center and Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital (CRRH).

The manager of Druk Diagnostic Center, Kuenzang Dorji, reported that the test results appeared negative at his center based on the record list maintained by his office.

The false results could be due to manipulation of test results by the laboratory technician or presentation of wrong clients to the technicians for testing, according to the investigation report.

Based on the findings from the health ministry Health, the regional office of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Employment (MoICE) in Gelephu imposed penalties of Nu 45,000 on Druk Diagnostic Centre.

The proprietor of the New Life Diagnostic Center, D.B. Rasaily reported the case on December 1, 2023, regarding the variation of test results at different screening centers.

Recommendations

The investigation team recommended that relevant agencies take necessary action against the Songtse Labor Agent and its employees based on laws, policies, or guidelines for unethical and unlawful practices.

New Life Diagnostic Center was also found liable, as per MoICE rules and standards for not uploading the test result to the Bhutan Labour Market Information System (BLMIS). “The manipulation would not have occurred if they had sincerely uploaded the test results.”

Druk Diagnostic Center was recommended to find the actual cause of the false result, specifically to identify whether the health professional manipulated the results or the wrong clients were presented to him.

The inquiry committee also recommended several measures to prevent future occurrences. These included implementing standardised operating procedures for labor agents and diagnostic centers, ensuring the timely uploading of medical reports, and enhancing monitoring mechanisms.

Additionally, the inquiry committee proposed the installation of functional CCTV cameras in and around diagnostic centers to enhance security and transparency.

The team highlighted systemic vulnerabilities that must be addressed promptly to safeguard public health and maintain the integrity of medical services in Bhutan.

Picture story

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:12

More than 500 Project DANTAK officials celebrated the eighth birthday of His Royal Highness Gyelsay Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck by conducting a 900-kilometer roadside cleaning initiative across various locations in Bhutan, including Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Trashigang, and Paro, among others. The effort sought to raise awareness about the importance of maintaining clean roads.

Senior citizens financially excluded 

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:12

Yangyel Lhaden 

Financial institutions, or banks, have been around for the past 55 years, yet their account penetration rate was still at a low of 47.5 percent, according to the Access to Finance Demand Side survey, 2022 by Royal Monetary Authority. 

In other words, till date only 170,000 banked individuals had access to financial services and products such as automatic teller machine, credit card, electronic money, debit card, and mobile banking, among others.

There were  about 350,000 Bhutanese who had an account in a bank. 

As a result, the financial exclusion posed significant challenges such as limiting the ability to save, invest, borrow, and manage their finances effectively, the report stated.

The survey further revealed that the financial exclusion rate stood at 19.2 percent for banked individuals. But among the senior citizens aged above 86 years and above the highest financial exclusion rate was at 82.8 percent, while for the youth, it stood at 27.4 percent.

For example, Sonam Tshering, 78, used to invest and buy shares and used a bank account for those purposes when younger. Now he does not even go to the ATM to withdraw money, although he has a bank account, and prefers using cash.

An 81-year-old Yeshi Choden does not have a bank account. For the past 40 years, she had been managing her money she earned from the livestock she sold by letting others borrow, and she made her living through the interest she earned. 

In her village Tongling, she lends from Nu 1,000 onwards to her neighbours and other village members at an interest rate of five percent.  “Some people borrow Nu 20,000 and some as low as Nu 1,000,” she said. “In the village it is enough money but I do face shortage of money when people do not pay me back on time.”

Yeshi Choden was not interested in opening a bank account. “About 10 years ago, my niece assisted me in making a bank account, but I am uneducated and don’t understand bank procedures, and I don’t need a bank account.”

According to RMA’s survey, 13.3 percent of unbanked individuals said they did not require a bank account. Most respondents said they did not open a bank account because they had no regular income. 93 percent of banked individuals expressed they opened a bank account for savings. 

The country’s 80.8 percent of the adult population had a bank account, and only 19.2 percent of the adult population were not banked, according to the survey by the Royal Monetary Authority.

The survey targeted 7,200 households in 20 districts and estimated the adult population to be 448,865 with 57.1 percent or about 250,000 females and 42.9 percent or about 190,000 males. 

The survey was conducted with the aim to understand the financial needs and demands of its people by assessing their livelihoods, income sources, and access to formal financial services.

Out of about 350,000 banked individuals, 80.5 percent (about 150,000) were male and 81.1 percent ( about 200,000) were female with 75.1 percent (about 190,000) rural and 91.5 percent ( about 170,000) urban banked individuals.

Having a bank account was important for several reasons, particularly in the context of financial inclusion, bank account ownership was a fundamental measure of financial inclusion and a bank account provided a platform for various financial activities, including saving money, sending or receiving remittances, receiving income and benefits, and facilitating day-to-day payments, the report states.

Choki Wangmo, 48, said that she was in her 20s when her father took her and her siblings to open a bank account at a bank called Bhutan Development Finance Corporation. 

“I had no idea what I would use the bank account for, but today I use it to save money in flexi and recurring deposits from the money my children send me. A bank account plays a crucial role in saving money and accessing funds, as it is easier for people to transfer, receive, and save money,” she said. 

The report also states about two-thirds of Bhutanese households experienced financial shortages, with rural households more affected than urban. When facing deficits, 83.6 percent borrowed money from family and friends, 32 percent bought essentials on credit, and 4 percent sought help from money lenders or formal financial institutions. Rural households relied more on credit and financial assistance compared to urban households.

 

Farmers wait crop compensation

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:11

Neten Dorji 

Trashigang—Farmers in Domkhar and Yenangbrangsa chiwogs of Samkhar gewog, Trashigang wait anxiously for news on crop compensation for their crops lost to a  windstorm. 

A severe windstorm on July 20 last year, that lasted more than 30 minutes, destroyed maize fields in the two chiwogs of Samkhar gewog. 

All households of these two chiwogs grow maize since maize is the staple food for most farmers. They do not have an alternative source of income. 

The gewog administration and relevant agencies were all informed about the disaster and thorough investigation was carried out. The community believed that they would be compensated. 

However, after the investigation, they were not shared with any information on whether they would be provided compensation.  

Villagers said that they were expecting crop damage compensation because 90 percent of households were affected.

“Every year the agriculture and gewog officials assess the damages, but we hardly get compensation from the government,” said a villager. 

He said although many programmes under agriculture sectors have been initiated to help farmers get involved and stay back in the villages, the rate of gungtong has been increasing as a result of such damages.

A resident, Sonam Jamtsho said that the crops were destroyed by the windstorm every year and they have received no compensation. 

“After the incidents, officials come for assessments and after that people are not informed about what is being done,” he said. “It would be appreciated if the agriculture sector could provide us with seeds instead of money as compensation.”

He said that a majority of farmers are discouraged from working and end up leaving their land fallow.

Another resident, Sonam Norbu, said they submitted the damage report to the gewog officials and there is no compensation from the government as of now.

“Neither are we receiving compensation nor are they providing us with seed substitutes. This discourages us from engaging in farming,” he said, adding that as a result they have to depend on imported rice.

Locals claim that officials ask each individual from every household to be present during inspections, but no news has surfaced.

Bikhar-Domkhar Chiwog Tshogpa, Jangchub, said that the frequent damage by natural disasters and attacks on farmer’s crops by wildlife is seriously affecting their efforts and is a formidable challenge for their livelihood, and increasing agricultural production.

“This discourages people from taking up farming, and acres of farmland have also been left fallow,” he said. “Furthermore, people migrate to urban areas in search of temporary job opportunities to sustain their livelihoods.”

The gewog official said reports were forwarded to the ministry through the dzongkhag administration. “We are also waiting for a response.”

Remote gewogs in need of more current budget

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:10

Dechen Dolkar 

The remote gewogs in the country had already exhausted their current budget for the fiscal year and were facing challenges in paying utility bills, vehicle maintenance, and refuelling.

Gakiling gewog under Haa dzongkhag, one of the farthest gewogs located 85km from the Dzongkhag, had already utilised its current budget of Nu 249,500 for the fiscal year. 

Gup Wang Tshering said Gakiling gewog, being the farthest, received the lowest current budget among the six gewogs in the dzongkhag for in-country travel, vehicle maintenance, and fuel in the current fiscal year. 

During each fiscal year, the Ministry of Finance allocates Nu 115,000 to all the 205 gewogs for maintenance and fuel. Additionally, the ministry allocated a similar amount of the current budget for paying utility bills, equipment maintenance, building maintenance, and computer expenses. The only variable factor was in the allocation of Travel Allowances and Daily Allowances (TA/DA) funds outside gewogs, which was determined by the distance of each gewog from the dzongkhag and drungkhag.

The Gakaling gewog received Nu 118,000 for the in-country travel for the current fiscal year.

Gup Wang Tshering had appealed to the dzongkhag office, who in turn had written to the Ministry of Finance requesting for an additional budget. However, the ministry had responded, stating that the budget was calculated using a formula based on the gewog’s distance from the dzongkhag and drungkhag.

The gewog mostly dealt with the dzongkhag for its works, even though the drungkhag was nearby. The drungkhag office catered mainly to land and engineering services.

The gewog had now reappropriated the budget for necessary expenditures such as fuelling the vehicle and to pay utility bills.

The gewogs provided essential services like transportation for civil servants on duty, official chiwogs visits, national programs like election duty and tree planting initiatives, and facilitating health officials’ monthly visits to ORC. The vehicle was also crucial for transporting patients to hospitals and the deceased to the crematorium.

The gup said the gewog was planning to carry over the cost of maintenance of vehicles for next fiscal year, as the budget for the maintenance had already been utilised.

However, the budget for travel allowance and daily allowance could not be carried over, leading to officials being unable to move around and often forgoing the allowances when attending meetings in the dzongkhags.

Dumtoe Gup in Samtse, Durga Das, said that his gewog had nearly spent all of the current budget before the fiscal year’s end. To meet necessary expenditures, they have had to reappropriate the budget and occasionally use funds from personal accounts.

Dophuchen Gup, Phuntso mentioned that frequent maintenance is required for the gewog’s old vehicle. 

He said that being the largest and farthest gewog, it consumed more fuel when attending important meetings. By January, the budget for fuel and maintenance was exhausted. 

“To attend crucial meetings, the gewog resorts to using funds from personal accounts, leading to situations where important meetings are missed due to budget constraints,” the Gup said.

Several gewogs have either finished their current budget or are on the verge of depletion before the fiscal year concludes. 

Whereas, some gups mentioned that gewogs near dzongkhags struggle to use the capital budget. 

They urged the ministry to allocate a budget for fuel and vehicle maintenance based on the distance from dzongkhags.

Bhutan begins third mega plantation programme

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:09

… to commemorate the Birth Anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey

YK Poudel

With the planting of eight almond seedlings at Chang Mindi, Wangchang gewog in Paro yesterday, the third phase of Million Fruit Trees Plantation officially kicked off.

Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho launched the programme, to commemorate the birth anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey. Officials from ministry of agriculture and livestock, His Majesty’s Secretariat, DeSuung office and Paro dzongkhag attended the event.

The project this year is to plant 1,221,447 high-value fruit trees (249,339 temperate and 972,108 sub-tropical). It targets to plant at least one million fruit seedlings in a year—the additional 221,447 seedlings are mainly to replace the dead seedlings from the MFTP Phase II.

Under this initiative eleven high value fruit trees will be prioritized for distribution and plantation namely: almond, walnut, pecan nut, kiwi and apples in temperate region and macadamia nut, irwin mango, bears lime, avocado, mandarin and agarwood in the subtropical region.

Similar to the earlier two phases, thousands of de-suups will be deployed for distribution and plantation of high-value fruit crops as Royal Soelra.

According to the press release, the fruit types were selected based on the climate suitability, export market potential, economic return, health benefits, processing and value addition potential.

The project in its second phase last year planted 1,009,620 trees and benefited 41,315 farmers, 324 government agencies, 257 schools, and 137 dratshangs across the country involving about 1,300 de-suups. 

The project achieved 100.1 percent temperate target and 100.9 percent subtropical target planting 1,010,100 fruit trees crossing the 1,003,562 national target.

Similarly, the first phase of the project within three months in 2022 planted 1,014,085 fruit trees of 22 varieties engaging 2,118 de-suups.

All planted fruit seedlings are geo-coded using the Kobo toolbox for ease of monitoring and follow-up interventions in the future.

To assess mortality using geo-coded records, the agriculture department, in partnership with the De-Suung National Service, conducted field surveys from September to October for the temperate plants and from November to December for sub-tropical plants.

The distribution was determined based on the location of the communities, availability of land, suitability for a particular geographic and climatic zone, and economic importance.

Simultaneously, the ministry  in collaboration with de-suups shall also establish fruit seedling nurseries at Chimipang and in other suitable  government farms, targeting to produce  sufficient seedlings  to completely meet the one million seedlings from domestic sources for the MFTP phase five.

The project is a joint initiative of the De-Suung National Service and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock that aims to enhance the livelihood of rural communities. It is expected to continue till 2026.

The MFTP project came upon the Royal Command of His Majesty The King as Royal Soelra aimed at enhancing the income of the rural households and increasing nutritional intake through cultivation of fruit trees by all farmers.

 

Maiden Anti-Corruption Day calls for collective effort

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:09

Thinley Namgay  

On the occasion of His Royal Highness Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck’s eighth birth anniversary, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced that the National Anti-Corruption Day would henceforth be observed on February 21, aligning with the birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.

The declaration, signed by ACC’s chairperson, Deki Pema, in the presence of commissioners, ACC officials, and the media, aims to customise the observance to the local context, celebrating the legacies of the monarchs and seeking citizens’ support in the fight against corruption.

While Bhutan traditionally observed the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, the National Anti-Corruption Day will emphasise local values and traditions. The day seeks to foster collaboration with various agencies and utilise platforms like social media for information dissemination.

This year’s theme for the National Anti-Corruption Day is “Integrity for Progress and Prosperity”.

ACC has planned fifteen build-up activities leading to February 21, including an online integrity poll for social media users, training sessions on DAMTSI education for teachers, video messages, reports on best practices, and thematic sessions for local government leaders.

Deki Pema expressed the commission’s goal to unite all stakeholders in the fight against corruption. She highlighted that the National Anti-Corruption Day encourages individuals to reflect on their conduct, translating the wisdom of His Majesty into practical actions.

Despite facing human resource and budget constraints, Deki Pema emphasised ACC’s commitment, citing an investigation of a minimum of 30 cases annually.

ACC also conducted a press conference addressing National Anti-Corruption Day, National Integrity Assessment 2022, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2023, and ACC’s Annual Report 2022-2023.

 

Maths wizards rewarded at annual competition

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:07

KP Sharma

Coinciding the 8th birth anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey, six students from various schools who won the Annual Gyalsey Mathematics competition were recognised and presented with awards in Thimphu yesterday.

The Gyalsey Annual Mathematics Award which was instituted in 2022 aims to foster and nurture students’ innate mathematical abilities.

The competition has two categories: the Higher Secondary School (HSS) category for students in classes 11 and 12 and the Middle Secondary School (MSS) category for students in classes nine and ten.

The competition was conducted at the national level on November 13 last year.

In the HSS category, Sonam Norbu, a class 12 student from the Royal Academy in Paro, secured the first prize of Nu 150,000. Following him was Sonam Tobgyal Dorji, also a class 12 student from Motithang HSS in Thimphu, who received the second prize of Nu 100,000.

Sonam Dorji Tamang, a class 11 student from Mendrelgang HSS in Tsirang, received the third prize of Nu 75,000.

Expressing his happiness and satisfaction regarding the competition, Sonam Dorji Tamang, who also participated in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) training in Gelephu, highlighted the distinction between mathematics at the international level and the content taught in schools.

He pointed at the potential benefits of aligning the Bhutanese school curriculum with the international standards in enhancing students’ proficiency in mathematics.

“It would be great if our curriculum in school also aligns with such standards,” he said.

Similarly, in the Middle Secondary School (MSS) category, Tandin Zangmo, a class 10 student from Lamgong HSS in Paro, secured the first prize of Nu 150,000. Following her was Karma Kelzang, a class 10 student from Dechentsemo HSS in Punakha, who earned the second prize of Nu 100,000. Tshering Choden Norbu from Gelephu HSS won the third prize of Nu 75,000.

Tandin Zangmo said that she worked hard and her preparation was the sole reason why she emerged as the winner.

“I relied on YouTube as my primary source for learning problem-solving,” she said.

According to Tandin, developing a robust mathematical foundation is crucial for tackling more complex problems and statements. “Mathematics becomes more manageable when we have a strong foundation of knowledge and skills,” she added.

The officials said that the international mathematics olympiad (IMO) for the year 2024 will take place in the United Kingdom and will become an annual event for the ministry.

 

Picture story

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:07

Bhutan men’s cricket team exited the Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) Men’s Challenger Cup underway in Bangkok, Thailand yesterday after losing three consecutive matches against Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Bhutan lost to Cambodia by 10 runs yesterday.

Against populist decisions

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:06

The decision to revise the lease rate of state land is a bold decision, if not timely or even late. Not many are aware, but the lease rate private businesses pay the government is peanuts compared with the income they make from businesses established on state land.

Urban Bhutan is short of space. In towns like Thimphu and Phuentsholing, owning a plot of land or getting one, on lease, for not less than a decade is an opportunity to make the most of it. Some have thrived from paying the minimal fee to the government.   The current rates were fixed more than a decade ago. It has to change given that the government or thromdes are always broke, hampering initiatives or plan to bring changes. 

Given that the expanding urban areas are once mostly paddy fields belonging to farmers, the few empty spaces have become lucrative as they pay a nominal lease fee vis-a-vis the opportunities. The lease rates are so minimal that a small pan shop under the stairs of a structure built on leased land is enough to pay the annual lease rate. While some had benefited, many including the State had been at a loss.

The State or the government needs revenue. In recent years, we have seen that development plans are affected or came to a standstill because of lack of funds.  Revenue from taxes and fees  contribute to the government coffer. It has to be reviewed and revised every few years. That the previous government revised the land and property tax is a good example. 

Increasing tax is not a popular decision (ask the DNT government). But the improved revenue from progressive taxation policy would mean ploughing back the revenue for improved services. Urban Bhutan has a lot of basic problems. We are still complaining of potholes, shortage of drinking water, proper waste management and so on. The increase in revenue from taxes, fees and levies will be invested back to improve services. If the empty spaces are developed as public spaces, it will be worth more than the fees collected. Thimphu, for instance, lacks open public space.

We can expect business and interest groups appealing to authorities to change the decision of the National Land Commission. There will be many convincing reasons including support for private sector growth. The Commission should not give in to pressure from interest groups. To put into context, ask a private school or an automobile workshop established on government land paying a nominal fee. The annual fee can be met, we can safely surmise, from a single student’s fee or repairing five pool vehicles.

There will be complaints and a few unhappy people or businesses from the decision to revise the lease rate. The revision in land and property tax is a good reference point. An individual owning a building on a 13-decimal plot in the Thimphu Thromde would be paying not less than 400 percent in property and land tax. It could be higher in the core urban areas of the thromde.

Are they complaining? Yes. Should we give in to the pressure? No. In paying higher taxes, the Thromde should be more accountable to the taxpayers. The improved revenue from taxes should result in improved taxes. In the capital city, we are only talking about basics like, pothole-free roads, improved waste collection, reliable drinking water, streetlights and proper drainage system.

A lot of wise decisions are challenged and changed to keep voters happy. The NLCS’s decision should receive full support of the government.

 

Businesses to appeal to govt. after significant hike in State land lease rate

Tue, 02/06/2024 - 01:05

Thukten Zangpo  

The business sector is preparing to appeal to the government to reconsider the new revised lease rates for State land that came into effect last month. 

On January 15, the Department of Land Administration and Management under the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) notified the implementation of revised State land lease rates 2023. The revision comes after over 14 years, the last revision was in February 2009.

This revision rate will be applicable for all new leases. However, the old lease rates of 2009 may be applied for all existing leased land until the completion of a one-year cycle, not exceeding beyond December 31 this year. 

The notification from the NLCS stated that it was crucial to periodically revise lease rates to adapt to evolving economic conditions, promoting the effective utilisation of land, enhancing revenue generation, and discouraging underutilisation.

It added that various discrepancies were identified in the determination of lease rents, where rents showed no correlation with the land value, among other factors and the Section 309 of the Land Act of Bhutan 2007 mandates the revision of the land lease rates every five years. 

The revision was coordinated by the Property Value and Assessment Agency (PAVA) unit under the finance ministry with active collaboration from pertinent stakeholders, including the NLCS.

The revision comes with varying rates for urban land lease rates across 67 urban centers—highest rates for the four Thromdes (Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrupjongkhar).  

General Secretary of Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI), Pema Namgyel Ghaley said that the manufacturing or production lease rent for Phuentsholing and Thimphu Thromdes saw a substantial increase of 366 percent and 521 percent respectively, from Nu 5 per sq. ft to Nu 23.23 sq. ft and from Nu 4 per sq.ft to Nu 24.87 per sq.ft. 

Suppose, for a standard factory leasing 1 acre of land in the Thromde area, there is an increase in the lease amount from Nu 1039, 771 from the earlier Nu 217,800 per annum. 

Pema Namgyel Ghaley said that the small and medium industries operating in these areas are already grappling with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and are diligently working to revitalise their businesses. 

For industrial parks land lease rates for Jemina Industrial Estate in Thimphu, Norbugang Industrial Park and Dhamdum Industrial Park in Samtse, Motanga Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar, the land lease rate is maintained at Nu 4 per sq.ft. However, for Pasakha Industrial Estate, the revised rate is discriminant set at Nu 10 per sq.ft, he added. 

All industrial parks lease rate shall be increased after every two years.

If a lessee has a trading business in Thimphu Thromde, he or she will be charged Nu 49.73 per square feet (sq. ft) from earlier Nu 20 per sq.ft. 

For a decimal of land leased, it comes to Nu 21, 662,39 annually from earlier Nu 8,712, an increase of 148.65 percent. 

The Association plans to appeal to the government to reconsider the revised land lease rates soon. 

“In light of the challenging economic situation, particularly the ongoing efforts of the private sector to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, we earnestly request the government to maintain the status quo of the lease rent,” Pema Namgyel Ghaley said.

He asked that a thorough review of the implementation of the Revised State Land Rates, 2023, with active consultation involving the private sector and relevant agencies has to be carried out to ensure a balanced perspective.

The ABI stated that the National Land Commission announced the implementation of the revised state land lease rates, 2023, assigning the coordination responsibility to the PAVA unit under the finance ministry. 

“This process involved collaboration with key stakeholders, including NLCS. However, it is regrettable that private sector representatives were neither engaged as stakeholders during the assessment nor consulted in the decision-making process,” Pema Namgyel Ghaley.

President of Association of Wood-based Industries, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that the revised land lease rate coming at the time when businesses are recovering from the economic downturn and facing difficulty is discouraging and disappointing for the private sector. 

“The government could have increased it proportionately based on the capacity of the business, otherwise, many businesses will shut down,” he said, adding that it could have aligned to the tenancy agreement where 10 percent increase if applied after every two years. 

On the other hand, President of the Automobile Sector Association of Bhutan, LB Gurung said that the automobile workshops in Thimphu, which are leased on private lands, have to pay high rent of Nu 100,000 to 150,000 monthly. 

The workshops in Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar thromdes are on leased State land. With revision, a workshop owner has to pay Nu 23.27 per sq.ft which is Nu 10, 136.41 annually for a decimal of land or Nu 101, 364.12 annually for a 10 decimal land. 

For residential lease rate, which is for the living quarters area and shall include areas given for accommodation of construction workers and stores for building construction, it has been categorised into three—long-term (above three years), short-term (up to three years), and temporary (up to six months). 

Earlier the rate in Thimphu Thromde was uniform at Nu 5 per sq.ft, however, with the revision it is now Nu 18.49 per sq.ft for long term, 23.11 for short-term, and 28.89 for temporary.

For a 10 decimal of residential space, a lessee has to pay Nu 80, 542.44 annually for long-term, Nu 100,667.16 for short-term, and Nu 100,667.16 annually for temporary. 

An institutional related lease is categorised into social (areas occupied by civil society organisations, schools, hospital, religious bodies, rehabilitation centers, orphanages, etc) and non-social use (areas are occupied by government, corporate offices and utilities service structures example, substation/electric double poles/ fiber cabinet/ telecommunications).

For social, it ranges between Nu .06 and Nu 3.7 per sq.ft, and non-social between .12 and 7.4 per sq.ft respectively depending on the area.

Land lease rates for schools in Thimphu are to be maintained status quo with provisions for 10 percent increase every two years. 

At the same time, lease rate for sports facilities and recreational parks will be continued at a token fee of Nu .10 per sq.ft per annum as maintained earlier.

 

Other lease rates

For lease rates under tsamdro or pasture development, the rate was revised to Nu 120 per acre annually for individual lease and Nu 85 per acre annually for community lease. However, those domicile individuals or communities will get a 90 percent rebate. 

For sokshing, the rate is maintained at an earlier rate of Nu 10 per acre annually.

Those lease holders for mining activities will be charged Nu 2,800 per acre per annum from its earlier rate of Nu 640 per acre annually. 

Unlike the earlier rate of Nu 640 per acre annually for the commercial agriculture or livestock farm, the revised rate had different rates across 20 Dzongkhags. Highest was reported at Nu 3, 169.92 per acre annually for Thimphu and lowest at Nu 1, 313.06 per acre annually for Gasa. 

Land lease rate for business activities outside the industrial park was revised between Nu .72 per sq.ft in Thimphu and Nu .12 per sq.ft for Gasa.

State land lease rate for developmental activities by government and nonprofit Civil Society Organisations excluding government corporations has been revised from Nu 100 per acre annually of 2009 rate to highest at Nu 630.5 per acre annually in Thimphu and Nu 103.63 per acre annually, the lowest for Gasa.

 

His Majesty The King grants Dhar

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 11:55

His Majesty The King granted Dhar to appoint four government secretaries and promote 13 officers of the armed forces. His Majesty also conferred Kabney and Patang to two individuals on February 3.

Pemba Wangchuk, Acting Secretary of Ministry of Health, Tshewang C Dorji, Acting Secretary of Ministry of Education and Skills, Leki Wangmo, Acting Secretary of Ministry of Finance, and Jigme Tenzing, Acting Secretary of GovTech Agency, were appointed Secretaries of their respective agencies.  The Acting Secretaries were appointed by the RCSC in 2022, with the provision that after at least one year in their positions, and based on their performance during that period, they may be recommended for appointment as Secretaries.

L-R: Row 1: Col Lhendup Dorji, Col Sonam Gyambo, Col Jamba Rinchen, Col Sangay Dorji DK, DNY, Col Chogyel Drukpa, Col Sonam Wangchuk, Col Sangay Tshering, DK
Row 2: Col Sisir Chhetri, Col Kinley Chophel, DK, Col Sonam Phuntsho, Col Norbu Zangpo, Col Chimi Dorji, Col Kuenzang D Taula

Three officers from the RBA, three officers of the RBG, and 7 officers from the RBP also received dhar from His Majesty The King, on their promotion from the rank of Lt Colonel to Colonel.

His Majesty The King conferred Kabney and Patang to the founding Dean of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Sangay Dorjee. Sangay Dorjee worked as the Project Director for the establishment of Bhutan’s first and only Law School, which was established by Royal Charter in 2015. In 2016, He was appointed as the founding Dean of the Law School, which began its first classes in 2017. His Majesty also conferred Kabney and Patang to Jigme Yoezer, Driglam Specialist at the Department of Culture. Jigme Yoezer, who joined civil service in 1995, has led the coordination of traditional and cultural ceremonies for important national events since 2008, including the Coronation, Centenary celebrations, Royal Wedding, and National Day celebrations.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, the President of JSW Law, Prime Minster Tshering Tobgay, Lt. General Batoo Tshering, COO of the Royal Bhutan Army, and the Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission, were present at the ceremony.

Addressing attrition is a priority: Health Minister

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 11:54

Jigmi Wangdi

Human Resource attrition in the health sector has become a major challenge with no immediate solution, Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk said.

“I am concerned that tertiary health facilities like the JDWNRH might implode if we don’t work urgently towards addressing the attrition issue,” said the Health Minister.

Therefore, addressing the attrition in the health workforce was the focus of one of the multiple priority areas for the present government.

A solution being explored was putting in place a robust performance management system wherein the value of the efforts and time of the health professionals was genuinely recognised.

Before that, a comprehensive review of the current performance management system would also be carried out to identify contentious areas.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said the National Medical Services in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Royal Civil Service Commission was developing a different Performance Management System and Career Pathway for Healthcare Professionals to recognise and differentiate unique roles and responsibilities of different categories of health professionals.

Lyonpo said that he will also work towards ensuring the comprehensive implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan once the plan is finalised and endorsed. “The plan, which is aligned to all the major thematic areas of the health sector, if fully implemented, is expected to yield high impact and major health gains for the Bhutanese population.”

The government would also be rolling out ePIS, leveraging digital technology to enhance the quality of health services and their sustainability.

Lyonpo shared that when PDP pledged to have “One doctor in one gewog”, the party was mindful of the acute shortage of doctors in the country. “Nevertheless, we recognised the importance of urgently addressing this concern and therefore set a very ambitious goal.”

“We will strive to make our MBBS programme one of the best ones in the region, and ensure that the programme can produce the required number of doctors so that we can be self-reliant in the shortest possible time,” Lyonpo added.

As an alternative,  the outreach programmes would be strengthened through a systemic approach so that the people living in the local communities were not deprived of the services that they needed and deserved.

Sustainable land management helps Thongrong farmers

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 11:53

Neten Dorji

Trashigang—Growing Napier hedges has helped in reversing the top soil erosion, and improved crop production, and livestock productivity, according to farmers of Thongrong, Trashigang.

The dzongkhag agriculture sector, with support from UNDP’s small grant program and the Community Development and Knowledge Management for the Satoyama Initiative(COMDEKS), implemented the initiative among the 47 households in Thongrong under Phongmey gewog who had been cultivating a steep slope where even light rain, and or wind washed away or blew away the top soil severely impacting the productivity.

Sixty-two-year-old, Tshering Wangchuk like other farmers of his village in Thongrong, Trashigang, had started growing rows of Napier hedges in his field as a barrier to slow and trap topsoil and water from moving down the slopes.

“Even slight rainfall caused loss of topsoil. Crop productivity decreased and cultivation became difficult in a stony field,” Tshering Wangchuk said.

Another villager, Tshering Yangchen said that the farmlands in the past were difficult to work and the yield was poor. “During monsoon, runoff rainwater would wash away the topsoil and in the winter, strong winds would blow the topsoil away,” she said. “The land management made it much better and now most people use power tillers in the fields.”

For 38-year-old Lobzang Jamba, the lines of hedges grown in the fields had helped increase the crop yield and provided fodder for the cattle.

“After the land management work, it has become convenient for ploughing and retaining topsoil. Now we cultivate chilli, potato and cabbage and we can sell it in schools.”

He said that they have very limited arable land. Without the land management program, they would have faced serious consequences.

In fact, due to the low productivity in the past, Dorji Dema had left her land fallow. “ Now it has become fertile, and we work with power tillers without having to hire labourers.”

Despite a decrease in cultivated land, crop production has shown improvement compared to previous generations. Nevertheless, due to certain sections of hedges beginning to dry up, some farmers have stopped the practice of cutting them for fodder.

As part of planting Napier hedgerow (grass) in farmlands, 13 bamboo check dams and drains were constructed to reduce gully formations in 2014.

“When the project was initially initiated in the chiwog, we had doubts about its success. It has immensely benefited us, but the problem is further exacerbated by the impact of climate change today,” said Tshogpa Sonam Norbu.

Meanwhile, approximately 1,100 acres of land have been brought under agricultural land development through bench terracing, terrace consolidation, and surface stone removal in the country in 2022, as stated in the National Soil Service Centre’s annual report.

“Given the limited arable land that is located on steep slopes, land degradation, mainly water-induced soil erosion, is a serious threat to food security and people’s livelihoods,” the report stated.

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