There are 130 non-wood forest product (NWFP) management groups in 17 dzongkhags, involving more than 4,500 rural households as members, according to a deputy chief forestry officer, Sonam Peldon.

She said that community based NWFP enterprises have the potential to significantly improve rural life as 69 percent of the population live in rural areas. “If we could build enterprises based on NWFPs, it would generate income and also help address youth unemployment.”

Sonam Peldon said the community based NWFP enterprises in Bhutan should be made sustainable by linking it to local schools and institution, improving business skills and development of products and in eco-tourism.

This was shared during a consultative meeting on development of SAARC regional project on community-based NWFP enterprise in Thimphu on August 24.

Sonam Peldon said that NWFPs such as cane, bamboo, cordyceps, daphne paper, honey, incense, lemon grass oil, medicinal fruits and plants, mushrooms and spices are currently promoted in Bhutan under ‘one gewog three products plan’.

Presenting on its development in Bhutan, she said that NWFPs are one of the major commodities used for income generation in rural Bhutan. “In the earlier days, the role of NWFP as an economic activity in rural livelihood was not really recognised and low priority was given to its management.”

She said rural communities were not involved in NWFP management. Although community forest started gaining importance in the 1990s, there was no legal entity. “Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 gave legal recognition to community forestry program and participation of local communities was given due importance.”

She said there are two ways of managing NWFP resources in Bhutan – by approving a community forest management plan where ownership is given to community forest management groups for 10 years and through establishment of NWFP management groups where ownership is given to communities for three years. “After three years, the ownership gets revised based on their management plans. If they have followed the management of the prescribed plan, they can be renewed.”

She said community forest contributes to 2.8 percent of national level distribution of areas and 3 percent of the total forest area. “Community forest management plans to ensure maximum people participation in sustainable resource management.”

The deputy chief forestry officer said that as of June this year, there are 695 community forests established and handed over to community forest management groups which include about 28,890 rural households as members covering about 77,213 hectares of state reserve forestland. There are also 46 community forest management groups in parks and wildlife sanctuary.

Sonam Peldon said NWFP management group, which is smaller than community forest management groups, aim for sustainable management and utilisation of potential NWFP species and to generate income towards poverty alleviation.

She said Bhutan faces many challenges in NWFP development such as lack of technology, economics, management skills, markets and capital for value addition, lack of information on market, quantity and quality requirements, small and dispersed volumes, irregular supply and demand, poor infrastructure, and high transportation costs.

She said Bhutan also faces challenges of identification of products as it cannot compete with Indian or Chinese markets, since there is no establishment of small and medium sized community-based enterprises, there is no quality control, grading and value addition in order to get better prices and threat of NWFP resources from climate change.

The consultative meeting was organised by agriculture ministry’s department of Forest and Park Services in collaboration with the SAARC agriculture center, and center on integrated rural development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP).

The meeting was aimed at documenting lessons on community-based enterprise on NWFPs in South and South-East Asia and to identify models for sustainable enterprise development and priority areas of intervention through regional activities.

The participants include SAARC member countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, and CIRDAP participants from Fiji, Myanmar, Philippines, Laos and Bangladesh.

Experts from respective countries presented their country’s report on community-based business model along with the challenges in promoting it.

Karma Cheki