Restoring Bhutan’s degraded land

Arable Land in Bhutan
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Although 71% of Bhutan’s total land is under forest cover, landslides and soil erosion are some of the most significant environmental problems in Bhutan; the cumulative impact of these phenomena at the national level is quite significant. Due to the geographical terrain and location in a critical seismic zone, Bhutan experiences landslides and soil erosion, escalating land management problems and compounding the general loss of soil fertility. Indeed, land degradation is happening at an alarming rate. According to Second National Communication 2011, the total land area affect­ed by landslides and soil erosion was 77,211 hectares in Bhutan.

Land degradation, especially on fragile mountain slopes, exposes top soil to monsoon rainfall, causing top-soil erosion, gully erosion, flash floods, and slope destabilization. This inevitably results in the loss of productive land and increases the need for expen­sive eco-restoration and relief programs. Considering the fact that only 2.75% of the country’s area is cultivated agricultural land, conservation of precious arable land is paramount.

Additionally, the deterioration of vegetative cover generally increases the amount of dust particles suspended in the atmosphere, exposing the populace to allergies and other respiratory ailments.

Land degradation can mainly be attributed to rapid socio-economic development and population growth in addition to emergence of mining industries, shifting cultivation practices, and other land use changes.

Major impacts of land degradation

Bhutan's Forest Cover
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  • Land degradation increases soil erosion and nutrient depletion leading to reduced land productivity
  • Cost for restoration of lost productive agricultural land is very high
  • Land degradation alters hydrological conditions and water availability – changes in quantity and quality of water has an inseparable impact on community livelihoods strategies
  • Challenges arise from decreased groundwater recharge and drying of water sources
  • Challenges arise from deterioration of water quality due to sedimentation from fragile soil areas
  • Decrease in forest resources and ecosystem services has both a socio-ecological and socio-economic impact

RSPN have implemented several strategic land management programs in the past in acutely affected areas;

  • Community-based soil erosion management
  • Plantations involving communities, volunteers and RSPN members
  • Slope stabilization measures
  • Assisting establishment of community forests
  • Introduction of fuel efficient stoves in schools and institutions
  • Promotion of organic farming and 
  • Integration of environmental management measures in development activities

However, ensuring continuity and replication of sustainable land management practices that is most appropriate to Bhutanese context that will secure livelihoods for rural people is still a challenge. To address these issues, RSPN will embark on:

  • Assessment and identification of key degraded areas
  • Implementation and promotion of appropriate land management technologies
  • Supporting sustainable agricultural techniques and practices
  • Green initiatives such as community forestation and reforestation, community-based forest management programs
  • Advocate effective soil and land management
  • Strengthen environmental education and advocacy programs

CURRENT PROJECTS

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

At RSPN, we believe a single grain of sand can tip the scale. You can be the grain that tips the scale towards improved environmental conditions and conservation efforts in Bhutan. RSPN has set a target to raise US$ 1.5 million for next 10 years.