National action plan devised

National action plan devised

27 March 2011

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Bhutan — About 64 forest fires occur in Bhutan every year.

Records with the department of forests showed, there were 643 forest fires between 1998 and 2008 that razed a forest area of 83,759 hectares.

Forest fire is one of the many factors that contributed towards 0.54 percent of degraded land today in Bhutan, agriculture officials said. It comes to about 13,596 hectares, most of which include moraine, glacial debris where nothing can be grown.

Other factors are overgrazing, unsustainable agriculture, water management, infrastructure development and mining activities.

“The consequence of land degradation are huge,” agriculture director Chencho Norbu said. “If you don’t handle it, you lose the good soil that can’t be recovered.”

Agricultural dependent Bhutan has limited agriculture land on steep slopes. About 30 percent of agriculture occurs on lands with more than 50 percent slope. More than 60 percent of arable land is dry land.

If nothing is grown on the land, monsoons wash off the topsoil to the rivers that’s used to generate electricity. Increasing sedimentation in the rivers means shortening the lifespan of turbines in the hydropower plants.

Chencho Norbu said ravines have been formed in the east, leading to displacement of people, because farmers lose “quite a chunk” of their farmland.

He explained that high intensity rains do not impact the soil in places that has vegetation because its force is reduced by the leaves. “But if you don’t have vegetation, the rain impounds the soil and washes it off,” he said. “ Even if the soil is loose and the water flows in, it would slide the moment it touches the parent rock. And landslides continue as long as the parent rock isn’t exposed.”

The cabinet recently approved the national action program to combat land degradation.

Preparing the national action plan is one of the obligations of being party to the UN convention to combat desertification (UNCCD), the director said. The plan he said would also help address “indirect” factors that contributed to land degradation in Bhutan.

Lack of a cross-sectoral policy on national land use and management and weak enforcement of environmental laws and regulations are some of the “indirect factors” of land degradation.

Having a plan in place also means getting together other agencies such as mining, forests and roads to also consider land degredation issues when they implement their works and to make the most of the limited funding.

Addressing land degradation would have immense impact on poverty as well, said Chencho Dorji. “When farmers say that their farm soil has hardened or the yields are low, it indicates that their land is degrading.”

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