With only eight percent of arable land available, agriculture and forest ministry has drafted Agriculture Land Development Guidelines (ALDG) for sustainable management of agricultural land.

Agriculture Land Development (ALD) is defined as sustainable development and management of arable land through change in landform for enhanced agriculture production and continuous agro-ecosystem services.

The guideline urges gewogs and dzongkhags to identify beneficiaries among the applicants. Then the Agriculture Research and Development Centre will carry out a feasibility study. The team will then make recommendations for the proposed ALD activities such as design, layout, and cost estimates. The gewogs will then carry out the implementation.

ALDG proposes three schemes to support ALD – cost sharing between the government and beneficiaries, government full support and government providing technical support only such as feasibility study, technical supervision and monitoring of ALD activities.

Principal land management officer of National Soil Service Centre, Tshering Dorji (PhD), said 58 percent of the population depends on agriculture but Bhutan lacked a clear land use guideline.

He said good land is limited with rugged terrains and steep slopes of up to 50 degree, which international standards deems unsuitable for cultivation.

Currently, only 2.93 percent of arable land is under cultivation. It means 123,189.3 acres of land is under cultivation, including 77495.3 acres of chhuzhing and 17217.8 acres of kamzhing, 28443.1 acres of orchards and 33.2 acres for other agricultural practices.

The guideline states with limitations associated with terrain and land management practices, the only plausible way forward is to use land and land-based natural resources more judiciously and sustainably.

Tshering Dorji (PhD) said: “ALDG will serve as a guide to planners and policy makers to establish a common approach and practice for agriculture land development programs and activities across the country.”

ALDG aims for proper land development to enable farm machanisation to bring more land under cultivation and to reduce land degradation. It also aims to address many environmental and social issues related to improper land management.

The guideline is in line with agriculture and forestry’s priority to scale-up farm mechanisation and to address farm labour shortage to enhance national food and nutritional security.

The guideline states: “Development of ALDG is timely in preparation for the 12th Five Year Plan wherein land development is one of the priorities of the Ministry.”

Agriculture and forest minister Yeshey Dorji emphasised on the importance of making plans to implement the guideline. “Otherwise, there is a risk of the guideline remaining just as a guideline.”

ALDG was launched on June 17 in Thimphu coinciding with world day to combat desertification and land degradation.

Karma Cheki