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Urbanisation encroaches on agriculture
Thimphu
In the last four years, Bhutan has lost 629.91 acres of wetland to infrastructure development and land conversion. This does not include illegal conversions, flood affected, or abandoned wetland areas.In six dzongkhags - Thimphu, Wangduephodrang, Trashiyangtse, Trashigang, Chukha, and Punakha - construction of infrastructure like schools, power projects, roads, housing, and town have swallowed 583.33 acres of wetland. Thimphu alone lost 401.42 acres, Wangduephodrang lost 48.94 acres, Chukha lost 37.11 acres, and Punakha lost 84.92 acres of wetland.

This trend could have serious consequences on the national objective of achieving 70 percent self sufficiency in food production. In fact, it contradicted the policy of increasing food production.

For example, it had become difficult to adopt mechanised farming because mostly flat land was being lost and food production, particularly rice, had reduced.Thimphu farmers said that paddy production had fallen steadily over the years and, on an average, each farmer in Babesa lost about an acre of wetland to the Changjiji housing project and the expressway, excluding apple orchards and other land holdings. Ap Lotey of Babesa, who lost a little over an acre of wetland from which he used to harvest about 1,200 kilogrammes of rice, said that he would prefer land over money because it was non-perishable. Ap Rinzin who lost about 150 apple trees to the expressway and about 1.5 acres of paddy land says he will not be able to produce enough food grain for his family.

With Bhutan's rising population, the increased import of food commodities would leave the country more vulnerable in terms of food sufficiency. There are many cases still of wetland conversion that the authorities are not aware of. This is really going to be a big challenge because Bhutan is losing agrarian land left and right. Only 7.8 percent of Bhutan's land area was suitable for agriculture and just a fraction of that was wet land. Arable land, which totalled 53,200 acres, could not be expanded because of the policy of maintaining 60 percent forest cover.

Bhutan's Land Act was enacted in 1979 to protect wet land and, over the years, a number of amendments has been made. The act forbids the conversion of wetland without the approval of the ministry of agriculture. The lack of commitment to the act had resulted in varying interpretation of the law, inflicting a serious setback to fertile agricultural land. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of the population own less than five acres of agriculture land per household and that was being fragmented among families. Bhutan has to consider establishing population centres away from flat agriculture land, experts says. According to theses experts constructing infrastructure and other development projects among the surrounding hills would not have been very difficult.

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'Vision and strategies' for protected areas

Bhutan today has four national parks (Royal Manas National Park, Jigme Dorji National Park, Black Mountains National Park, Thrumshingla National Park), four wildlife sanctuaries (Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary Khaling/Neoli Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (former Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve)) and a nature reserve which make up about 26 percent of the country's area. Apart from several endangered species of flora and fauna, 7,000 species of plants, 165 species of mammals and 700 species of birds can be found in the forests of Bhutan which cover 72 percent of the country's area.

A Bengal tiger was sighted at the Thrumshingla N.P., 3,000 metres a.s.l. Two years ago a 'biological corridor' was created to link the protected areas to prevent the 'genetic erosion' of plants and animals. Conservation of the natural environment has always been a priority of the royal government. The new vision and strategy document, he said, will ensure a more focused approach and also take into account emerging conservation issues in the management of the protected areas.

The document, among other things, will set conservation goals, give direction and incorporate the changing role of the nature conservation division. While lack of adequate communication among various stakeholders, human wild life conflicts, poaching, inadequate human and financial resources and forest fires have been identified as major problems, the richness of biodiversity, strong political donor support, potential for eco-tourism and research opportunities are outlined as opportunities. Although a protected area system was established since the early 60's most of the areas were confined to the northern and southern belts.

Apart from several endangered species of flora and fauna, 7,000 species of plants, 165 species of mammals and 700 species of birds can be found in the forests of Bhutan which cover 72 percent of the country's area.

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Central monk body has begun teaching computer operations
The central monk body has begun teaching computer operations to monks in its bid to electronically archive Bhutan's rich collection of Buddhist manuscripts, biographies and historical documents. The first step to archive religious documents electronically has begun: monks learning computer operations
20 monks of the central monk body completed a two-week (Level 2) computer operations course conducted by the National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) under its special skills programme.

Using Dzongkha fonts with Microsoft word, typing, editing and formatting in Dzongkha, typing pechas (scripts) and using templates for pechas, printing techniques, and introduction to internet were some of the skills imparted to the trainees.

With this training the monks will be able to save all scripts in computers and maintain it in a CD as a back up storage, NTTA officials said. The central monk body has already purchased 12 computers and will soon buy another eight to begin archiving. "This project was personally initiated and funded by His Holiness the Je Khenpo," said project coordinator, Karma Lhendup of the central monk body. His Holiness contributed Nu 1.8 million to the project.


To start with, the Drukpa Kagyued text will be compiled first. "Some portions of the text have been lost," said Karma Lhendup. "For example some pages of the Tsangpa Jarey kabum are missing but we have borrowed the text from buddhist monasteries in India and Nepal to fill in the missing bits and make corrections where necessary."


He added that other rare Buddhist texts which once existed in Bhutan but are now lost will also be borrowed and archived. Important religious texts of other major Buddhist lineages like the Nyingma tradition will be compiled at a later date. "When we complete compiling, our archive will be accessible to the public and those interested in research," said Karma Lhendup.


The National Library also has a similar project to document religious texts in the country.


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