The Payment for Environment Services scheme has renewed enthusiasm among community forest members 

Environment: Despite their hard work and investment, the Burkhey community forest in Phuentsholing was failing to inspire its members. Of the initial 29 members, eight households had dropped out.

The story was similar for the Namay Nichu community forest in Tsento gewog, Paro. Six years after its establishment, it had accumulated only Nu 50,000 in its joint bank account, and its members were growing weary.

But when the watershed management division proposed the Payment for Environment Services (PES) scheme, these communities agreed to join the scheme realising it was what they needed.

“This scheme has renewed enthusiasm in members,” Namay Nichu PES secretary Dago Gyaltshen said. Members did not mind contributing labour for about a month to convert their community forests to PES standards.

The Namay Nichu group now earns Nu 142,000 annually if they perform all activities to the satisfaction of the service users.

Under the scheme, the upstream community will protect water sources and ensure adequate supply for the communities downstream and the beneficiaries in return pay incentives.

There are three PES schemes in the country.

Watershed Management Division (WMD) officials said the PES system is imperative for long-term conservation of freshwater ecosystems and the services they provide.

For instance, maintaining the watersheds upstream will result in good water yield and quality which will be beneficial to the hydropower stations downstream through increased power generation and lower maintenance cost due to low sedimentation. Similarly water is essential for irrigation and drinking water supply.

“In turn the communities upstream receive incentives to ensure the protection of watersheds and therefore in the long run will protect the ecosystems,” WMD’s forest officer Kaka said. “The idea is to share the cost of conservation between the communities and the service users.”

A joint team with WMD officials determined what activities are necessary to protect the watershed before the service providers, the communities, and the service users enter into an agreement.

The communities maintain a 50 metre-radius from the water sources, which is 20m more than they need to according to their community forest management plans.

The number of cattle they raise and the grazing time are limited to five cattle and only during the daytime. The communities also plant trees wherever necessary.

The earlier practice of leaving unproductive livestock in forest is prohibited under the scheme.

Yakpugang community forest in Mongar was the first to implement the PES scheme with 103 members and covering 260 hectares in 2011. From Nu 52,000 in the first five years, the payment has been revised to Nu 142,550 a year for the next five years. The group supplies water to Mongar town.

Burkhey PES chairman, Suk Bahadur Tamang said that the community invested about Nu 250,000 in constructing a 10,000 litre tank for the five industries in Pasakha.

“We’ve also fenced the whole area and clean the tank two times a year,” he said. “Given the benefits, the hard work is worth it.”

The groups will deposit the payment for the services into the joint bank account. The groups give subsidised loans to members and farmers from their communities.

A feasibility study on PES was carried out in 2008 and three sites were identified for piloting: Woochu in Paro for hydropower, Phobjikha in Wangdue for tourism or scenic-beauty, and Yakpugang for drinking water.

Of that only the drinking water project was implemented.

The hydropower sector is willing to invest in PES but it entails a lot of studies and there is no baseline. “We have to develop models to study how much sediments the settlements generate and for that we need to develop capacity to carry out the study,” Kaka said.

For scenic beauty and ecotourism, he said although the communities sacrifice  much for tourism there is no baseline to argue for compensation to the service providers.

The division will conduct a feasibility study in Zhemgang for the next scheme.

“PES is a new initiative in the country, so initially it took a long time to draw the agreements,” Kaka said. “With experience the time taken has reduced drastically.”

Forest is an integral part of the farming system for the 69 percent of the population who live in rural areas on subsistence farming. They harvest timber and other forest products for nutrition.

After the establishment of community forests, this initiative is expected to help the rural communities earn from conservation of the environment.

Tshering Palden