Need to get figures right

We never really could settle on right percentage of our land under forest cover. In the 1980s, we were told that Bhutan had 72.5 percent of its land under forest cover. Then the figure dropped to less than 65 percent, according to some forest experts. Yet our forest cover percentage continued to resolutely linger on about 72 even as we have been increasingly losing our forestland to development activities, mining and other natural and manmade factors. In fact, government reports went on to show that Bhutan’s forest cover is actually increasing.

And yesterday, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji said that Bhutan’s current forest cover percentage is 94. Such a quantum leap in forest cover percentage in less than a year is incomprehensible. Figures become more confusing. We take comfort in the fact that the figure is drawn from a preliminary study. Even so, it says a lot about how we sample our data on which we base our development plans.

Perhaps that’s why challenges facing our agriculture sector today are vastly incomprehensible too. As a primary sector, growth in agriculture has hovered between 0.85 and 2.41 percent in the last five years. Our total arable land area is only 2.93 percent while the total land usage percentage has gone up by 6.8 from 158,600 acres in 2004 to 169,439 acres in 2014. And we continue to tear our hills and mountains, valleys and plains to accommodate our developmental needs.

Going by the figures, what we get at the best is a shady picture of the country’s dream to achieve self-sufficiency. Early Five-Year Plans (FYPs) called for self-sufficiency in staple foods. Now, though, the focus is more on achieving food security. For a nation like ours, both are vitally important. Our people should have access to enough food for health and active life at all times. At the same time, we must meet our consumption needs from our own production rather than depending on import.

If our land under forest cover is 94 percent, the picture we get of our country is a vast stretch of land south of the snow-capped Himalayas where there is no trace settlement whatsoever. Inaccurate data will lead us to wrong planning. Implications could be far-reaching.

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