Open Access
1 February 2008 Mapping the Status of Bhutan's Renewable (Agricultural) Natural Resource
Tom Dutson
Author Affiliations +

Mapping the Status of Bhutan's Renewable (Agricultural) Natural Resource, edited by Isabella Kassignana Khadka, A. Beatrice Murray, and Dharma R. Maharjan. Kathmandu, Nepal: Ministry of Agriculture, Royal Government of Bhutan and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, 2006. Free download at Hardcopy: US$20 (developed countries), US$15 (developing countries), US$10 (ICIMOD member countries). vii + 147 pp. ISBN 92-9115-011-8.

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Overall, this is an excellent publication that will usefully support renewable natural resources (RNR) development in Bhutan and will also be of interest as a case study to those involved in agricultural and rural development in other countries. It has resulted from a joint initiative between the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to analyze and classify the RNR of Bhutan, with special emphasis on agriculture and livestock. Bhutan has a predominantly agricultural economy, with more than three-quarters of its population engaged in agriculture and related activities; agriculture (including livestock and forestry) is the single largest contributor to the country's GDP, providing 33% of the total.

The book has a clearly defined purpose that is well served by a logical and systematic structure. The volume is divided into 4 parts: an introduction, an overview of Bhutan, a series of maps with supporting data summaries, and a final part containing a summary and conclusions. Throughout the book, text and tables complementing the maps are clear and concise. The contents clearly deliver what the title suggests.

The rationale and objectives of the study are well articulated in Part 1. Geoinformatics tools have been used to organize and analyze RNR databases (from an agricultural census carried out in 2000) and to present visual representations of data and information in order to assist development-planners and policy-makers by enhancing understanding. Part 2 provides a brief overview of Bhutan and gives descriptive information relating to the country's geophysical characteristics, climate conditions, agroecological zones, vegetation, land use and land cover, national protected areas and biological corridors, economy, development vision and policy, and developments in the RNR (agricultural) sector. A very useful presentation of information on countrywide characteristics is provided in a series of high-quality 1:250,000 maps with a separate acetate overlay showing country and district boundaries.

In Part 3 a series of thematic maps highlights various aspects of Bhutan's agriculture, including agricultural land use characteristics, cereal production and yields, agricultural inputs, horticultural production, livestock population and production and agricultural marketing. The subsection on major constraints to farming provides some of the most immediately revealing information. For example, information is given on destruction of crops by wildlife—including the statistic that 36% of farm households have reported losses directly caused by wild boar. Farmers also experience constraints related to labor shortages, lack of irrigation facilities and limited access to markets.

One of the specific objectives of the study was to characterize the districts of Bhutan based on simple RNR indicators. In Part 4, a set of 11 indicators are listed and clearly and succinctly described. One, for example, is the percentage of households owning wetland (chushing)—which essentially shows the distribution of paddy fields. Another is the percentage of households owning 3 or more acres of arable land, a good indication that a household is self-sufficient and has a stable food production. Maps show a ranking of districts based on selected RNR indicators, as well as an overall ranking based on a sum of the rank positions of individual indicators for each district. These indicators are used to explore the limitations and potential for agricultural development.

Five-year plans are the basis for development-planning in Bhutan. The 9th Five Year Plan (2002–2007) introduced planning at the level of the Geog (a group of villages forming an administrative subdivision of a Dzongkhag or district), giving greater autonomy and independence to communities and their elected representatives in the planning and implementation of development activities. In the 10th Five Year Plan, poverty reduction will constitute the country's main development objective. This plan will also see the development of a more rational and mutually agreed method of resource allocation to facilitate better prioritization of plans and balanced regional development. This atlas has the potential to contribute to the achievement of the RNR sector's objectives throughout the 10th Five Year Plan period and beyond. Further analysis of (ideally updated) RNR census data that enables a Geog level resolution could be a useful step on from this study in order to reveal the variations within districts. It might then enable targeting of specific technical support and help to inform and verify problem analysis by district and subdistrict stakeholders. Also, some further examination of physical and socioeconomic factors that have shaped the distribution and productivity of various agricultural systems would be useful.

To have converted the survey data in this way is a considerable achievement. The book provides a detailed snapshot of agricultural resources and activities, and this rich source of information will help decision-makers and the donor community in supporting the RGoB in its efforts towards sustainable development. In this respect, it is a significant contribution to the field, successfully providing a baseline description that will prove useful for charting change over the coming years and decades. Clearly, the preparation of the document has been a valuable learning exercise and the production of this first edition will facilitate the production of subsequent updated versions. Trend data will be valuable to monitor developments and evaluate various programs and projects.

An interactive CD-ROM has been produced for use in Bhutan, to complement the printed atlas. This is a useful user-friendly resource which enables viewing of maps equivalent to those in the book. It has simple GIS functionality that allows the user to browse and query.

The value of a publication such as this is clearly in its application. If you are involved in rural/agricultural project planning and implementation in Bhutan, you should have a copy. It will also prove useful to development practitioners and students of rural development elsewhere, as a country case study illustrating an approach to national census, presentation, analysis and application of data. If you simply have an interest in rural Bhutan, this publication will provide a fascinating insight into agricultural life.

Tom Dutson "Mapping the Status of Bhutan's Renewable (Agricultural) Natural Resource," Mountain Research and Development 28(1), 91-92, (1 February 2008).
Published: 1 February 2008
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