Choki Wangmo

The agricultural sector’s growth and its contributions to the country’s economy have been decreasing with a record low at 4.36 percent in 2018, which is associated with poor performance of the forestry sub-sector.

This could change with the RNR strategy 2040, published last week by the agriculture and forests ministry.  The strategy is expected to address challenges in the sector through 114 initiatives and 11 strategies identified by different sub-sectors.

So, what’s the change?

The strategy states that the decreasing trend of the sector’s contribution to GDP is linked to lack of accounting forestry services. “The most critical challenges are the declining public sector investment, frequent institutional reorganisation, and increasing vulnerability to climate change impacts.”

Despite being one of the oldest sectors in the country, with more than half of the population involved in agriculture, the strategy says that its impact has been impeded by frequent organisational review, policy conflict, ad hoc adjustment of plans, lack of cascading plans, and absence of objective monitoring and evaluation.

The forest department is mandated to carry out strategy 10 of the document: “Mainstream sustainable management (conservation and utilisation) of natural resources”, through sustainable use of natural resources and “Judicious management of natural resources is a key strategy of environmental conservation,  strengthening rural livelihoods and eradicating poverty”.

Bhutan currently has 1,001 million (M) m3 forests and natural vegetation and 7,434 floral and faunal biodiversity.

However, the economic returns from the “vast” natural resources so far have been negligible.  For example, only 5 percent of Bhutan’s total forest area is used for commercial production.

Last year, the government announced measures to export wood-based products, which is expected to save more than 3 billion (B) revenue losses from import of these products.

Since the enforcement of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995, records show that the annual production of timbre has drastically reduced from 2007 onwards.  In 2019, timber production was 0.20Mm3 compared with 1.60Mm3 in 1992.

The forest department’s estimate is that Bhutan has 5.08Mm3 allowable timber cut annually, from which the plan is to extract about 25 percent from the forest management units, community forests, and private forest.

Earlier this year, to reduce wastage of natural resources and substitute wood product imports, the agriculture ministry asked the stand-alone sawmills to upgrade to integrated wood-based industries within two years.

The strategy aims to strengthen bio-prospecting initiatives to ensure access and benefit sharing through circular economy concept, where the raw materials, components, and products waste are reduced and renewable energy sources used.

Some initiatives under the strategy include sustainable utilisation of natural resources, including genetic resources, development of green accounting for natural resources, and innovative mechanisms to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

The initiatives in the strategy 2040 were designed for long-term, mid-term, and short-term interventions.

The total financing requirement to implement the initiatives is projected at Nu 21.6B.  It would be financed through multiple approaches of public investment, grant assistance, soft loans, private sector investment, and foreign direct investments.