Land degradation and the response in the form of sustainable land management practices are alive and well in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The Workshop on Assessing the Economic Benefits of Sustainable Land Management Practices in Bhutan took place March 18 in Thimphu, Bhutan in cooperation with the World Bank Group, National Soil Service Center of Bhutan, and the Ministry of Agricuture and Forestry of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Honorable Minister Yeshi Dorji gave an opening address, by which he addressed that, “poverty and land degradation are intrinsically linked,” Minister Dorji also spoke to the importance of mitigation as climate change has already shown visible effects on the country in the form of more frequent landslides and desertification. “Understanding the impact is the key to moving ahead in policy…mitigation has to occur,” he said.
Dr. Ephraim Nkonya presented the research results of the World Bank funded case study which found that:
- Bhutan’s mountains provide immense opportunities for hydroelectric power (HEP). The HEP sector currently accounts for up to 40% of government revenue (DGPC 2009), and has the potential to grow. Owing to the large quantity of suitable terrain, the currently installed capacity of 1488 MW is only about 5% of the estimated total HEP potential. Bhutan’s vision is to achieve 10,000 MW installed capacity by 2020 (DGPC 2009).
- Forests account for about 70% of the land area in Bhutan, which puts Bhutan among the few countries with forest extent greater than 50%. The large forest cover provides local benefits, including serving as source of water used for HEP generation. Additionally, about 25% of Bhutan’s population lives in protected areas, drawing direct benefits from forest ecosystem services. The large forest area also provides global benefits of carbon sequestration, biodiversity, genetic information and other forest ecosystems. Such services provide opportunities for Bhutan to derive payment for ecosystem services from the global community.
- Bhutan’s deep-rooted traditions and cultural values of Mahayana Buddhism serve as a robust cultural foundation for realizing the benefits of sustainable development. It is these cultural values, which stress co-existence of people with nature and sanctity of life, compassion for others and happiness in general, that led Bhutan to adopt the Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) instead of the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, given that Bhutan’s economy is heavily dependent on natural resources, these cultural values have also been contributing to the long-term economic welfare of the Bhutanese people by encouraging sustainable development as Bhutan works towards its 2020 Vision of Peace, Prosperity and Happiness.
Discussions surrounding the impact of land management on sedimentation provided local insight to complement both the SWAT (soil water assessment tool) model findings giving a fuller picture on the research results. Previous to the Workshop, an Introductory SWAT workshop for 12 participants was conducted using a local Bhutan watershed dataset. The workshop was held over 3 days that includes spatial data preparation such as elevation, landuse and soils along with weather data. The following day, the focus was on hands-on input data preparation of SWAT model using ArcSWAT software an extension to ArcGIS software which includes watershed delineation, landuse/soil/slope overlay, hru delineation and weather input. Once the basic default data were gathered through the interface, the inputs and land management were customized based on local knowledge and simulated the hydrology and water quality. The results were compared with ground truth data to gain confidence in model and discussed manual calibration procedures and output interpretation during the workshop.