Keeping them where they are

Now that we have opened up to the rest of the world, the alacrity with which change is coming is amazing. It is, also, deeply worrying.

Our urban and rural landscapes have gone through dramatic changes. Over the decades, our values systems have evolved, threatening the very survival of our identity. We may have succeeded in preserving the façades of the society, but losing the soul that defines us as Bhutanese could be painful. Maybe it is time we asked ourselves some deeply searching questions.

Our farmers are increasingly leaving their village homes and coming to urban centres. One of the leading causes driving our farmers from their fields is increasing human-wildlife conflicts. Even as we try to address the issue with measures like electric fencing, farmers continue to lose their crops to wild animals, making it difficult for them to eke out a living.

The challenges that we now confront will only grow if appropriate interventions are not sought. The sooner we do this, the better.

Already highlanders of Merak in Trashigang are asking the livestock department for urgent interventions. Maybe for the young people in the far-off communities urban lifestyle with dazzling array of modern amenities is irresistible. In many highland communities, yak- and sheep-rearing culture has visibly declined. This means soon our highlanders will have lost their traditional textile-making skills, making their lives in the highlands even more difficult.

The long-term consequences that we could face from all these developments are serious. Highlanders are our sentinels in the north. It is important that they remain there, which means we must take development to their doorsteps. Agriculture and health facilities are important. Good schools with enough teachers may hold our highlanders back. If highlanders are of the view that providing them with fine-breed animals will encourage them to stay behind, maybe it is time we heard them and saw how all these could be done. How quickly do so will matter.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    Whenever we try to discuss a few things about a certain value chain, maximum value is either created at the bottom or it happens at the top. Values due to quality in any given value chain is always associated with the top portion of the entire chain.

    Highlanders in Bhutan are not just some kind of cultural identify for their methods involved in their livelihood. If they are the expert herders of yaks and different varieties of sheep, the products will matter more than the methods alone.

    Merino and Cashmere are famous names in the woolen textile industry. Certain varieties of yak wool can be both warmer than Merino and as soft as Cashmere. That same high quality wool becomes a product of luxury when they are associated with the brands of fashion. We know the highlanders of Bhutan, but not any brand of Bhutanese wool and quality woolen products. Now that term ‘Bhutanese Fashion’ may not be an appropriate one as it’s more inclined to the cultural and traditional values. But a brand of Bhutanese wool can change values of fashion wears somewhere else.

    Another post of today’s paper talks about how a group of farmers from Punakha got saved when they moved to milk processing for yogurt production after the market of milk alone failed them. Even the highlanders as herders are demanding an access to a food processing industry. If we want quality at the top of the value chain, certain methods must be changed to create better products for value at the bottom.

    The realistic challenge here is that we can’t expect a lot to change by just involving one or two ministries and their departments. There are always the boundaries where the scopes get limited for the ministries and the departments. So how do we stop these boundaries turning into barriers? Only a solution here can keep the highlanders where they truly belong without sacrificing on quality of life even in today’s time. Education can both lead and follow a path of development and growth.

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