About 60 Kabesa residents received two fruits each yesterday

Choki Wangmo 

About 60 households of Kawang gewog in Thimphu received 150 fruit trees as a part of the “Million Trees Project”, launched in Thimphu yesterday.

The five-year project between Bhutan Ecological Society (BES) and Bhutan Foundation aims to promote ecologically fecund and economically productive landscapes which can also serve as community carbon banks.

“By cultivating high-value trees in lands that have been left fallow, the project will help improve livelihoods of communities while nurturing the environment,” said the director of BES, Pem Lama. “It could generate annual and long-term income for rural farmers and serve as community carbon banks.”

She said that Bhutan has a tiny landholding from which many are left fallow. The project, she said, could help in the proper use of fallow land across the country by introducing a concept similar to agro-forestry.

Currently, 3.7 percent of Bhutan’s total land cover is arable. Of this, Pem Lama, said that due to human-wildlife conflict, lack of adequate water supply, and lack of access to markets, an estimated 29 percent (54,600 acres) are fallow.

The project is expected to nurture over a million high-value trees like plums, pears, walnuts, and peaches in all dzongkhags.

According to estimates, about 200 to 300 trees can be planted in an acre of fallow land. The saplings are procured from local private nurseries.

Yesterday, the project was also launched in Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Tsirang. About 3,000 trees were distributed in these dzongkhags as a part of the launch.

In the future, fruit trees for different dzongkhags will be grown based on the agro-ecological zones.

Pema, 68 from Kabesa said that he was excited about the project. He said that he plans to plant 30-40 fruit trees around his farmland.

“Without paddy cultivation in the area, I have to depend on fruit trees and vegetables,” he said, adding that the project would help him diversify his income source instead of depending on his diminishing apple orchard.  “The area is feasible for fruit trees.”

He said in recent years income from apple business had decreased due to poor fruiting.

With community and individual ownership over the project, BES hopes that the project will be successful unlike its few projects in the past. Pem Lama said that there were challenges in the past projects because of a lack of care and ownership from the authorities concerned.

Developmental activities like road construction have damaged many of the fruit trees planted in public spaces within Thimphu Thromde.

Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, the Royal Patron of BES and officials from relevant agencies attended the launch. Bhutan Foundation is funding the USD 1 million project.