Chhimi Dema 

The country in the past 16 years developed around 26,886 acres of land to enable farmers to enhance farm productivity without degrading land resources.

The Sustainable Land Management (SLM) also called the Agriculture Land Development Programme began in the 1960s under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL).

It was then called the Soil Conservation Programme and the government provided farming tools and financial aid to develop the land.

The National Soil Services Centre under the then MOAF coordinated soil or land management research of the renewable natural resource sector in the country.

Bhutan has 2.93 percent of the land as cultivated agricultural land from a total land cover of 38,394 sq km.

Head of the land management unit at the Soil Centre, Haka Drukpa, said that agricultural land management is important to ensure food security and sustainable farming in the country’s rugged terrain.

He said that during rainfall, farming on a steep slope causes surface erosion washing away the nutrient soil for plants’ growth. “Our research showed that depending on the slope, farmers are losing 12 to 21 metric tonnes of soil per acre. This impacts agricultural production.”

Under the land management programme, there are interventions such as dryland terracing, terrace consolidation, contour hedgerow, contour stone bund, orchard basin-making, orchard-terracing, surface stone removal, landslide stabilisation, water source protection, and fallow land reversion.

The land management programme gained momentum in 2003 after the eastern dzongkhags experienced major landslides and flash floods.

Records with the soil centre show that the programme received support from the Global Environment Facility for seven years (2006 to 2013) in three dzongkhags (Zhemgang, Trashigang, and Chukha) covering nine gewogs.

Haka Drukpa said that the agriculture land management interventions were tested in these gewogs and it was found relevant to the Bhutanese context and some modifications were made to suit the country’s context.

In 2013, the programme received support from the Bhutan Trust for Environment Protection and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The programme is also carried out through UNDP’s GEF small grants programme.

Currently, the Green Climate Fund and GEF Least Developed Countries Fund are supporting the land management programme in ten dzongkhags (Mongar, Haa, Dagana, Tsirang, Wangdue, Punakha, Sarpang, Samtse, Trongsa, and Zhemgang).

Haka Drukpa said that SLM is a long-term investment with benefits seen after 10 or 15 years which often discourages people to invest. “Farmers expect an instant output of their work whereas SLM’s impact takes time.”

He said that if SLM interventions are made then the soil nutrients are retained which makes the land feasible for mechanisation.

For example, terracing the land allows the farmers to use machines to work on the farm and it reduces labour costs.

Haka Drukpa said that implementing the land management intervention is challenging with budget constraints.

Each gewog has a different development priority and most of the interventions are project-based, he said. “If land management activities are not carried out then ensuring food security is questionable.”

The soil centre through the various funding sources provides technical and financial assistance to the farmers.

“Land management is important to allow the future generations to live off the land we have today,” Haka Drukpa said.