Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on Wednesday said the EU-Bhutan partnership is growing and that it needed to be celebrated.

Speaking at the launch of the EU-funded Rural Development and Climate Change Response Programme, Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay thanked the EU for its continued support. He said it was important for Bhutan to work with the EU to not only achieve its developmental aspirations but also to combat climate change.

“I want to celebrate not just the launch of the Rural Development and Climate Change Response Programme but also the growing partnership between the EU and the Royal Government of Bhutan,” he said.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the role of the EU’s assistance in Bhutan’s progress. “Through this partnership, I want to celebrate the improving lifestyles and prosperity levels, and the overall wellbeing of the Bhutanese people,” he said.

The EU has committed a total of €47 million (M) for various developmental projects during the current cooperation period. This includes €20M for capacity building programmes for local governments and €2.5M as support for civil society organisations (CSOs).

The EU’s support programmes will help the government reduce poverty and improve rural livelihoods. The other priorities are environment protection, and strengthening of local governments and CSOs.

Many of Bhutan’s CSOs, the prime minister said, are involved in helping people in rural Bhutan improve their livelihoods and that they are also important to good governance and democracy. “They are also checks and balances in the functioning of the government,” he said.

Bhutan signed a separate agreement with the EU on the sidelines of the Paris COP summit in 2015 where both agreed to fight climate change.

“We treasure our forest not just because we need to protect environment but also because that is where about 60 percent of our population lives. Our population lives and works in rural Bhutan,” he said.

The prime minister added that the government is coming up with projects and programmes to help people living in rural Bhutan to be able to respond to climate change impacts. The government, he said, is also developing programmes aimed at strengthening local governments through budgetary grants.

“This is the perfect way to strengthen our people to improve their wellbeing and livelihoods while at the same time take care of our environment,” he said. “I want to thank the EU for being the first country to respond to our requests for assistance (after the recently held Round Table Meeting) in the last mile of our journey to graduate from the LDC category” he added.

The prime minister assured that the support provided will be effectively and efficiently used for the intended purposes. “We have the responsibility to ensure that each and every target of all our programmes under the EU fund is not just matched but are surpassed. We have this obligation to ourselves, to our people and to the EU.”

The EU’s Delhi-based Head of Cooperation, (Dr) Johann Hesse, was also present at the launch of the Rural Development and Climate Change Response Programme.

“We are pleased that this programme takes off as it will further strengthen the joint efforts of the EU and Bhutan in tackling climate change challenges,” he said. “Since agriculture forms an important part of the Bhutanese economy, support to the evolution of a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector will be critical to the country’s overall development trajectory.”

The agriculture ministry’s Pema Thinley, said disbursement of the money hinges on certain conditions such as the outcomes of the initial investments. The EU has committed €21.5M for the programme.

The project’s main objective is to assist the government with the implementation of reforms that will make rural communities more resilient to climate change. Key actions under the programme include construction of rural roads and irrigation facilities, increased use of resilient seeds and livestock breeds and improved natural resource management. The project will also address environmental issues like deforestation and loss of biodiversity, as these are interconnected with agricultural activities.

EU-Bhutan partnership began in 1982 and from the sixth Plan to the 10th Plan, the EU provided a total of €72M. Most of the money was invested in the RNR sector.

MB Subba