Thukten Zangpo 

The budget rationalisation has left National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests with no capital budget in the fiscal year 2022-23.

The finance ministry rationalised the budget allocation across the ministries and agencies because of limited resources available.

Until now, the centre has been receiving at least Nu 2 million (M) as capital budget every fiscal year.

NBC received Nu 25.8M as a capital budget in the fiscal year 2020-21.

The slashing of the capital budget is likely to seriously hamper Bhutan’s biodiversity conservation efforts since the country is identified as one of the biodiversity hotspots globally.

Agriculture Secretary Thinley Namgyel said that the government was not generous as used to be in the past because of new expenditures related to Covid-19.

He added that unless it was absolutely required, the finance ministry had not approved. “And we have to prioritise.”

Thinley Namgyel said NBC has a budget for projects at Nu 6.57M from external grants from different donors.

“It is not only NBC that is singled out, because looking at all government departments, it is also the same story.”

Officials from the centre declined to share the details.

NBC, formed in 2001 was mandated to strengthen conservation initiatives and coordinate biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilisation programmes in the country.

The centre uses the capital budget mainly for the conservation and maintenance of an inventory of animal and plant genetic resources through gene banks, live plant conservation in a botanical garden, and herbarium, among others. The centre also discovers new species.

However, with no capital budget, officials or researchers cannot go to the field for specimen collection.

The seed banks or gene banks are the country’s biodiversity asset which ensures food security if the country faces a crisis.

Sources close to the agency said that it is important to preserve and maintain the gene bank of the traditional crop varieties since these varieties are in danger of getting extinct.

It was found that the traditional crop diversity in the country has been declining due to complex factors namely urbanisation, displacement of crop varieties, and change in the cropping pattern and use of new hybrid seeds.

“The traditional crop varieties are climate resilient and would be resupplied to the farmers if the varieties become extinct,” a source said, adding that these varieties are only available in Bhutan.

The source also said that traditional varieties are nutritious and could be exported under the banner of the brand Bhutan.

Another source said that a herbarium that maintains a repository of wild flora information is helpful for researchers, botanists, and students as a reference for the identification of plant specimens.

“If researchers go by books, they would take two to three years to identify the plants’ specimen, however, one can do it in a month from the centre’s herbarium,” the source said.

The herbarium also shows the floral diversity and geographic distribution of the plant species across the region and dzongkhags.

“With the record, it can be known whether the species has existed earlier and become extinct with habitat loss or not,” the source said, adding that decision-makers can decide from the herbarium information whether species are critically endangered, vulnerable, or threatened.

Another source also said that native animal genetics is preserved, because of the risks of getting extinct in future.

Royal Botanical Garden, a live plant ex-situ conservation works like a rescue centre. “If a plant was extinct, it can be introduced later to a suitable site,” a source said.

Statistics show that Bhutan has 70.77 percent of the total area under forest cover and 51.44 percent secured as protected areas and biological corridors and is home to 11, 248 species of flora and fauna including 4,978 species of vascular plants, 3,511 insects, 129 mammals, 736 birds, 125 fishes, and 158 amphibians and reptiles.

Over 300 species of medicinal plants have been found at altitudes ranging from 200 to 7,800 meters above sea level.

While, in domestic biodiversity, there are more than 55 species of agricultural crops and 6 species of livestock.