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Trashigang: Radhi's critical state of the environment
The Chongdiri landslide
The Chongdiri ravine
Courtesy RNRRC Khangma
Starting this winter, every farmer in Radhi geog in Trashigang will take up winter cropping in keeping with a by-law the geog adopted recently.
This new initiative to cultivate wheat, mustard, and vegetables during winter, is aimed at gradually reducing grazing area in the geog, ultimately to get rid of unwanted cattle population.

Rising cattle population and overgrazing is one of the many reasons for Radhi geog's poor state of the environment. Since 1981 the geog has experienced numerous landslides and heavy soil erosion almost every year.

The Chongdiri landslide, at the peak of the Radhi slope, started as a scratch but intensified in 1998 and in 2001. In two decades, the landslide has eaten agricultural land of a 65-acre area, killed about eight people and about four households had to be relocated. At the top of the Chongdiri landslide is Sheytimi, an open area of approximately 3800 acres which has served as grazing land for Radhi geog and the Brokpas of Merak for generations. The two communities have been at loggerheads over the rights to graze in the area for years.

The results of indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources in Sheytimi
Courtesy RNRRC Khangma
According to reports of the RNRRC Khangma about 1000 cattle from Radhi and over 900 cattle from Merak graze at Sheytimi through the year.

The area is today stripped of all possible fodder trees and all large trees have been felled. The existing dense bushy vegetation is the only supply of fuelwood for Radhi.

Experts say that the management of the Chongdiri watershed, which is part of the Gamrichu watershed that includes Radhi, Phongmey and five other geogs has reached such a critical stage that if not taken care of now, it would destroy Radhi in the future. "It's bad," says research officer Thinley Wangchuk of renewable natural resource research centre (RNRRC), Khangma. "While geographically the tectonic movement is more at the particular region, increased population and livestock over the years have made it worse." Of the 27 landslides including landslips and gullies in the Radhi-Phongmey region, 22 were in the Chongdiri watershed and 15 were new occurrences.

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Worse degradation
Ura Valley, Mongar, dry farming
Seven villages along the Chongdiri watershed area were affected and the worst degradation was at its upper catchment area where Tongling village is located. "Cracks have started appearing on the ground surface in all the villages near Chongdiri," says the district agriculture officer of Trashigang, Chimi Rinzin. Researchers at Khangma say that indiscriminate exploitation of the natural resources has contributed to Radhi's degradation.

During the 70s, Radhipas felled trees extensively for timber and fuelwood, farming activities and for human settlements. Increasing human and livestock population led to overgrazing and extensive lopping of the few existing trees for fodder.

Poor drainage also caused overflow and seepage from paddy fields and irrigation channels and from the Radhi-Phongmey feeder road. All this plus the higher tectonic movement in the area where Radhi is perched has disturbed the hydrological equilibrium triggering the Chongdiri ravine, other landslides and gullies, says Thinley Wangchuk

Since 1998, the dzongkhag forestry, a project called Third Forestry Development project (now formerly closed), the RNRRC Khangma and the local community have been doing their share of saving the other half of the 'rice bowl' of Trashigang. A 10-kilometre barbed wire fencing is being put near the slide area under the catchment protection programme and includes fencing of the upper catchment of the ravine, Sheytimi - the most critical environmentally degraded area of the dzongkhag.

As other measures to protect the watershed, about 11 acres of trees have been planted by the third forestry development project in 1999. The dzongkhag forestry office also planted trees in 125 acres in 2001 and about 32,040 trees a year. The research centre in Khangma planted 11,235 trees this year. Natural resource management farmer groups are repairing the Khayshongrong irrigation channel and stabilising critical drainage lines including that of the feeder road. Other activities include livestock development programme, supply of seeds and seedlings for pasture development and fodder conservation.

But the degradation continues. In August 2003, the Yuidiri stream, that flows between Radhi and Phongmey washed away the Yuidiri bailey bridge and posed a risk to about six households located on its north. "It is definitely a manifestation of critical watershed management," says DAO Chimi Rinzin.The monsoon this year also saw numerous swollen streams triggering landcapes

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006

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