Bhutan is losing about 3.34 tonnes of topsoil per hectare every year. Where sustainable land management techniques and practices are not implemented, soil loss increases eightfold to 24.61 tonnes a hectare. Even with sustainable land management techniques, Bhutan is losing at least 12 million tonnes of topsoil every year.
For a country that has limited cultivable land, this is worrying. Our total cultivated area is only about 2.93 percent. Natural soil loss besides, our arable land is increasingly facing the pressure of urban development. As a country where more than 65 percent of population depends on agriculture for livelihood, implications could be serious.
Already, more than half a dozen households in Trashigang had to be relocated because soil loss due to erosion left their land uncultivable. Because of the topography of the country and the impact of climate change, such challenges will only increase in the years to come. As prominent as it is, land degradation caused by water, landslides and ravine formation can be devastating, resulting in reduced agricultural productivity countrywide.
With rapidly decreasing acreage of arable land, to say nothing about how much soil we lose by the year, our food and nutrition security is at stake.
To reduce loss of topsoil, building terraces, stone bunds and planting fodder trees were encourage between 5th and 7th Plan. There is a need to encourage such initiatives again.
As His Majesty The King said: “Land is one of the most important economic assets of our people as well as a bond that ties us to our community and country. Therefore, issues related to land ownership and use are of immense importance. At the same time, since there is limited arable land, it is vital to ensure proper land management and optimise land utilisation.”
There is a need to carry out in-depth studies on land degradation and to develop an integrated national land use policy. We should come up with a robust land management plan guided by a strong policy document. We will also need to strengthen institutional capacity for effective implementation of sustainable land management. What is important, though, is that we are able to balance short-term and long-term benefits of sustainable land management.
Sustainable land management is critically important to ensure sustainable agriculture and continued ecosystem services. Otherwise, addressing land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss could be challenging.