With more than half of Bhutan’s population over 700,000 relying on agriculture for livelihood, the farming sector is the main driver of self-sufficiency and sustainable development in the country. Of the country’s 7.8 percent arable land, only about 3 percent is under cultivation. A host of factors make farming difficult in mountainous Bhutan and one of them is sloped land given the country's rugged topography.
The UNDP, through the Royal Government of Bhutan’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) III project, is supporting the country in addressing this challenge. The project entitled “Enhancing Sustainability and Climate Resilience of Forest and Agricultural Landscape and Community Livelihoods” helped convert 25 acres of dry land on steep slopes into cultivable agricultural land in Bemji and Pang villages of Nubi Gewog in Trongsa alone.
Sustainable Land Management (SLM) interventions, such as bench terracing and hedgerows plantation, were carried out to turn land that previously couldn’t be cultivated into terraced fields.
"Earlier, ploughing the slopes was hard work. We now use power tillers and this has helped reduce farm drudgery," said Kunzang Choden from Bemji.
“We will be able to irrigate and grow rice in these terraced fields in a few years’ time after the terraces are stabilized,” Thinley Dorji from Bemji said.
Apart from enabling farm mechanization, sustainable land management practices also help in improving soil fertility as the terraces prevent top soil from being washed away by rain. Land degradation is a huge concern in Bhutan with the country losing more than 3 tonnes of topsoil per hectare annually, causing loss of land productivity.
Through the same project, which is financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and implemented by the Royal Government of Bhutan in partnership UNDP Bhutan, 40 acres of dry land are being converted into viable agricultural land in Kella village of Tangsibji Gewog, Trongsa.
SLM interventions have also been carried out in Nimshong Chiwog of Korphu Gewog and Sinphu village of Nubi Gewog in Trongsa and Saling in Monggar. Karshong village of Nubi Gewog in Trongsa will benefit next from the project.
SLM interventions are also being implemented in other districts that fall within the project landscape and these districts are Haa, Lhuntse, Mongar, Zhemgang and Sarpang.