With 69 percent of Bhutanese living in rural areas and depending on non-wood forest products (NWFP) for income generation, sustainability of the resource has become a concern.

NWFPs include resources and products such as boulders, sand, clay soil, cane, bamboo, lemon grass oil, mushrooms, resin, pine needles, wild fruits, and plants.

Chief forestry officer with social forestry and extension division, Pasang W Norbu, said that most people go to the forest, collect everything they get and sell them. “People usually collect everything, leaving nothing for the next season. If this happens, in a few years, everything will disappear,” he said. “For sustainability, we have to leave something for nature to recoup itself.”

People collect NWFPs illegally, he said, but that there are many NWFPs that can be collected legally with permit.  “If they come to get permit, and seek the department’s help, we are there to guide them how, when and what quantity should be collected.”

For the sustainability of NWFPs, forestry department in collaboration with the department of agriculture is trying to domesticate NWFPs. The departments have already begun an experiment to domesticate one of the most sought after NWFPs, ginseng in Bumthang and Lamperi.

Pasang W Norbu said the ministry would support the people to grow NWFPs. If the trial is successful, people can sell NWFPs like any other commodity. With the project, the ministry aims to reduce risk to the people and the resources.

Apart from domesticating the NWFPs, the social forestry and extension division is also working towards forming more NWFP management groups and training them on group management and resource division.

“Community forest group is a little different from NWFP group, as community forests have resource available for weeks, but in the case of NWFP, it is seasonal and limited,” Pasang W Norbu said.

Whenever people go to collect NWFPs, he said the community comes together and after the season is over, they break away. “Every year, it becomes a make and break process, so we are trying to keep them [the groups] solid.”

Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017 say that a fine of Nu 50 per kilogram for commercial “taking” of restricted NWFP and Nu 20 for violation of rules governing the collection, transit and trade of NWFP will be slapped on individuals. In both cases, compensation at fair market value must be paid or the produce would be seized.

According to 2016 reports, Nu 127,030 and Nu 22,427,945.8 fines were imposed on illegal collection of cordyceps, and stone, boulder and sand, respectively. Nu 3,672,016 fine was collected from illegal transportation of NWFP or timber.

Karma Cheki