The long road to food self sufficiency
Although Bhutan has 70.46 percent forest coverage, arable land, is only 2.93 percent.
While Bhutan has envisioned achieving food self-sufficiency in the future, it is not likely that it would be achieved anytime soon given one major hurdle being land degradation.
Agriculture and forests minister Yeshey Dorji said Bhutan is no exception to the affects of land degradation because of the country’s mountainous and rugged terrains, limited area of good land and simultaneously the limited area under agriculture.
“Our farmers are forced to cultivate even up to 40 degree slopes, which by international standard is unsuitable for agriculture,” he said, adding that the rugged terrains and extreme climatic regimes further limited the scope of expanding the land area, especially for agriculture.
The minister said 58 percent of the country’s population still depended on agriculture for their livelihoods by subsisting on just about three percent of the total land area.
“Hence, this small proportion of agriculture land is increasingly put under tremendous pressure by different forms of land degradation,” he added.
Land degradation, meanwhile, has become a major concern both locally and globally. As per available report, an estimated 3.6 billion hectares worldwide are being affected by desertification and various other forms of land degradation.
Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji also said that land degradation is prevalent all across the country and that it is one of the main factors impacting our crop productivity and national food and nutrition security.
“The need to combat land degradation in our country was felt as early as 1960s and various land management programs and projects have been implemented ever since,” Lyonpo said.
However, he added that such initiatives by different sectors have been largely taking place in isolation without macro-level policy and or strategic perspective.
“It’s high time that we now address land degradation problems and issues through specific policies and proper institutional mechanisms, coordination of cross-sectoral issues, programs and activities for the effectively and efficiently management of land degradation in the country,” the minister suggested.
According to Dr. Tshering Dorji of National Soil Services Center (NSSC), Department of agriculture (DoA), MoAF, land degradation neutrality (LDN) under sustainable development goals (SDGs) as 15.3 minimum target was set to maintain and increase the amount of healthy and productive land resources.
“Addressing land degradation issues in a more holistic and systematic manner is very important in our country,” he said
However, he said that the relevance of LDN will largely depend on the status of current land resources, the severity, extent and impact of land degradation and the importance that people accord to land resources.
“Climate change impacts and also the way people manage land resources will also make the variation,” Dr. Tshering Dorji explained, adding that the prevalence of land degradation is throughout the country, mostly in the eastern and southern parts due to unstable geo stabilities and the presence of thrust zones.
He mentioned that these two parts of the country have steep and unstable slopes, unsustainable management of land resources and lack of clear land use policies and guidelines, thus leading to climate change and loss of biodiversity.
“About 206 square kilometers (O.5 percent) of land are degraded by landslides, gullies, ravines and glacial moraines,” he said, adding that the most extensive form of land degradation is surface erosion, which occurs mostly in agriculture farm and bare land.
Further, about three – 21 tons/ hectares of fertile topsoil are being lost annually from the agriculture land in the country and that Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) spends about USD 16M (million) a year in repairing the turbines and other underwater structures due to sediment loading, according to Dr. Tshering Dorji.
Meanwhile, the LDN implemented is reportedly needed in the country for the proper management of land resources, to combat land degradation, to streamline and mainstream land management activities into government policies and plants to mobilize financial resources.
“All these could be enhanced by tapping LDN opportunities,” Dr. Tshering Dorji said, adding that LDN in the country would enhance rural livelihood, create employment opportunities, and establish proper coordination mechanism in combating land degradation, tap financial resources and also benefit in achieving multiple SDGs.
Meanwhile, Bhutan is amongst the 110 countries committed to set national land degradation neutrality targets. Works toward achieving LDN is expected to bring multiple benefits and also help in maintaining Bhutan as one of the carbon neutral countries and biodiversity hotspots in the world, while also enhancing rural livelihoods