Jigmi Wangdi 

Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Forest Research and Training (UWIFoRT) in Bumthang has the first smart nursery for forestry development and conservation purposes.

The institute also has an arboretum for research and education, and increased learning on native plants with high commercial and therapeutic values.

To combat the risk facing the non-wood forest products (NWFP), UWIFoRT is working on domesticating some of the NWFP that are highly sought after because of their food, income and medicinal values for research and study purposes.  

The nursery also supports the production of plant seedlings and root-balled plants for plantation, landscaping, and beautification works.

Director of UWIFoRT and specialist, Kaka Tshering (PhD), said that the nursery has benefitted the foresters and trainees.

“The nursery set-up has become a demonstration ground through which foresters understand how such technology can help reduce manpower, increase efficiency and conserve water at the same time,” said Kaka Tshering.  

He said that forest nursery is the foundation of any forest restoration, conservation and sustainable forest management practices and the foresters are trained in the establishment and management of forest nurseries. 

“However, in the era of automation and improving efficiency, setting up smart irrigation was found to be the need of the hour. The smart irrigation set-up at the Institute is a part of the training infrastructure and demonstrated to the foresters to increase efficiency and conserve water by accurate water timing and irrigation volume,” Kaka Tshering added.

Kaka Tshering said that the domestication of NWFP is being taken up as a part of forestry nursery management training and most of the plants under trial are being tested for their ability to germinate in a nursery condition. 

“Most of the species such as seabuckthorn were reportedly not germinating in their natural condition and, for that reason, the trial is being conducted to understand its germination potency and its adaptability to other conditions,” he said. 

“While smart nursery may not be the appropriate term to be used in the case of nursery infrastructure at UWIFoRT as it does not have all the elements of a smart nursery. Irrigation is the only component that is introduced in our nursery set-up and it can help in the domestication process of the NWFPs as it can invariably control the flow time and volume of the water without the requirement of human interference once programmed.”

Kaka Tshering added that all the training that is conducted at the institute is transferable and all participants are encouraged to share their skills and knowledge with their peers, office colleagues and local communities.

Deputy Chief Forest Officer, Karma Thukten, said that the SMART nursery indirectly benefits the trainees at the institute as they receive training on nursery works and field practicals. 

“We do work on plantations and propagative science workshops. So, the trainees can use the nursery to enhance their knowledge,” Karma Thukten said. 

He added that the nursery has a variety of plants such as prinsepia utilis and hypericum choisianum other than seabuckthorn. 

“We need to engage more with the people at the community level to create awareness of the medicinal benefits of the plants. Right now, most people do not understand it and do not know that we give our seedlings if they come asking for them,” he added. “People mostly still collect most plants from the wild.”

Karma shared that the shortage of funds is a main challenge to overcome, as it restricts them from working at the community level without a proper budget.  

“If we have the budget, we can expand the nursery even further. Our institute has so much land and with the right budget, we can upscale it to be more sustainable in the long run. We can also engage people and work together with them,” he said. 

Similarly, Kaka Tshering said that local smart irrigation equipment needs to be further improved. “There are frequent breakdowns and also getting technical support to troubleshoot technical glitches is difficult in Bhutan.”  

The caretaker of the nursery, Sonam Dorji Sherpa, shared that the tangible issues they face are owing to encroachment by wild animals and the freezing of water in winter.

“Having a proper fence around the nursery would help greatly. We have deer and wild boars raiding the nursery,” he said. “And in winter, the water freezes here and we cannot irrigate the plants. Well-insulated water pipes would significantly help address this.”

WWF-Bhutan supported the development of a smart nursery at UWIFoRT through the IKI Living Landscape project.  Besides enhancing the training and seed bank of essential tree species infrastructure at the institute, foresters said it would help build institutional capacity.