sustainable agriculture in bhutan

Bhutan is a small, predominately mountainous country landlocked between China and India. It has a population of nearly 760,000 people— about 70 percent of whom live in rural areas. The agricultural sector is central to the Bhutanese economy. Over 65 percent of the population is involved in agriculture and it accounts for over 20 percent of Bhutan’s GDP. Thus, sustainable agriculture in Bhutan is a necessary future development.

The Effects of Climate Change

Most of Bhutan’s rural population depends on subsistence farming. However, climate change is altering ecosystems in ways that have far-reaching, adverse consequences for health and the economy. For example, high-mountain environments, such as that of Bhutan, are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. This is in part due to the rapid rate of temperature changes which increases with elevation.

The projected effects of climate change in Bhutan include increasingly frequent floods and landslides, receding glaciers and other natural hazards — which all impose barriers to sustainable agriculture development.

Sustainable Agriculture in Bhutan

Sustainable agriculture in Bhutan is an important factor for socio-economic development and growth. In addition to climate-related hazards, challenges to productive and sustainable agriculture in Bhutan include water scarcity, fragmented landholding, changing land use, negative human-wildlife interactions, inadequate irrigation and poor infrastructural development.

In 2017, the Government of Bhutan developed the ‘Enhancing Sustainability and Climate Resilience of Forest and Agricultural Landscape and Community Livelihoods in Bhutan’ project. Its objectives are to strengthen biological corridors, build resilience for adaption to climate change and support sustainable agriculture in Bhutan by 2023.

Food Insecurity

Climate change poses fundamental threats to people’s livelihoods in Bhutan with its potential to increase food insecurity and rural poverty. Despite substantial economic growth in recent years, rates of food insecurity and malnutrition remain high. Thirty-three percent of the Bhutanese population suffers from food insecurity. Furthermore, over 33 percent of Bhutanese children have stunted growth.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals’ target of increasing agricultural productivity by 2030 is also driving the government’s efforts in the agricultural sector.

Although it will be difficult for Bhutan to reach this target due to uneven and mountainous terrain, the country is committed to alleviating poverty and food insecurity through sustainable agriculture development.

– Gabrielle Doran

Photo: Flickr

development projects in bhutan
Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a small country that sits on the Himalayas’ eastern edge in south Asia. The nation is considered one of the world’s least developed countries, and agriculture is at least 80 percent of Bhutan’s economy. Bhutan has made significant strides in development in recent years, and has been able to maintain solid growth and economic stability.

In 2017, The World Bank approved and funded five development projects in Bhutan. These projects are an effort to further the economic growth of the country.

1. Bhutan BLSS Economic Census

BLSS stands for Bhutan Living Standard Survey and was reintroduced in February 2017. It is a household survey that is taken by the National Statistics Bureau. The survey was previously conducted in 2003, 2007 and 2012. After its introduction in February, the survey was again taken in March 2017. The survey provides many critical indicators, such as the national poverty line and National Accounts statistics.

2. Preparation of Strategic Program for Climate Resilience

The Preparation of Strategic Program for Climate Resilience was introduced in February 2017 and will be completed by September 2019. This long-term plan is meant to help Bhutan improve national climate resilience. The project will build on ongoing activities in Bhutan to incorporate climate resilience in development planning. Bhutan then plans to use the project to help create a climate-resilient investment plan for the country.

3. Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project

The Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project was introduced in April 2017 and will be completed by December 2022. The project’s goal is to combat Bhutan’s reliance on food imports and to increase local agriculture. Since Bhutan is mainly an agriculture country, this increase will also help lower unemployment and reduce poverty.

4. Bhutan Youth Employment and Rural Entrepreneurship Project

The Bhutan Youth Employment and Rural Entrepreneurship Project was introduced in May 2017 and as of yet, has no closing date. The project’s goal is to increase employment opportunities in Bhutan, specifically for youth; many of the opportunities created are in agriculture. With more job opportunities, the Bhutanese economy will continue to improve as a result of this project. 

5. Strengthening Public Financial Management Project

The Strengthening Public Financial Management Project was introduced in September 2017 and will conclude in January 2021. The project’s goal is to help the Bhutanese manage their budget and public funds more efficiently. This will help the development and strengthening of public services and governance.

With the approval of these five development projects in Bhutan, The World Bank has loaned the Royal Government of Bhutan over 15 million U.S. dollars. The World Bank has worked closely with Bhutan since 1998 when Bhutan’s first project was approved.

The goal of these five development projects in Bhutan is to increase employment opportunities, decrease national poverty and strengthen Bhutan’s economy. Though it is still too early to see any significant changes since these five development projects in Bhutan were implemented, these efforts have laid a satisfying groundwork for the Bhutanese to build on.

– Courtney Wallace

Photo: Flickr


Bhutan, also known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a picturesque country bordering India and China and situated in the foothills of the Himalayas. The country has transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy under the rule of King Jigme Singye Wangchunk. To protect the environment as well as its culture from the outside world Bhutan remained in isolation for a long time. In June 1999, the country legalized television and the internet, slowly moving towards modernization.

Instead of using Gross National Income (GNI), the indicator of socio-economic development, Bhutan measures the quality of life with Gross National Happiness (GNH), a unique way of valuing the country’s self-worth.

Although Bhutan has a lot of potential in tourism, the infrastructure in Bhutan still remains a question. Due to the mountainous terrain, road construction was a challenge for a long time. The few options for transporting goods were porters, ponies or cantilever bridges built over rivers. To overcome this problem, in 1961 a large share of the National budget was invested in constructing a safe and reliable road network. From 1961 to 2002, almost 1231 miles of surfaced road and 102 suspension bridges were built.

With help from the Government of India, Bhutan has so far constructed two national highways, 337 bridges and 409 trail suspension bridges thus creating access to different remote areas of the country. Bhutan Airlines and Druk Airlines connect internationally with India, Thailand and Nepal. In 2005, an agreement was signed between India and Bhutan which provided the opportunity for Bhutan to connect with north-east India. This development is a cornerstone of improving infrastructure in Bhutan.

Another key feature of Bhutan is the generation and export of hydroelectric power which is possible because of the fast-flowing rivers coming from the mountain range of the Himalayas. Under the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, a clean development mechanism, Bhutan is estimated to export almost 10,000 MW of electricity to India by 2020. Five major hydropower projects like Tala, Chukkha, Dagachu, Basochhu and Kurichu, which started in 2015, are currently operational in Bhutan.

Quality of water is a major issue for Bhutan especially during monsoons when water contamination diseases like diarrhea take a toll on human lives. In 2005, the Bhutanese government, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), addressed this issue by implementing the Bhutan Water Quality Partnership (WQP) Project. The objective of the project is to provide safe drinking water by giving training and education to the local community, government staff and policymakers. The project has so far been able to improve drinking water for almost 100,000 people.

Bhutan is already considered a heaven for tourists from all over the world who seek peace and tranquility in the tiny Himalayan country. The development of infrastructure in Bhutan will bring more tourists to the country, boosting its economy and increasing its GNI.

– Mahua Mitra

Photo: Flickr

Education in BhutanThe encouraging transition towards gender equality within education in Bhutan has participated in the drastic decrease in their poverty rate from 23 percent in 2007 to 12 percent in 2012. An entire 11 percent has risen above the poverty line, in part because of girls’ greater access to education.

Comparing Genders

Traditionally, it was much more prevalent for Bhutanese girls to participate in domestic labor, such as babysitting and cleaning, while boys attended school. However, from 1992 to 2012 the enrollment rate has more than doubled from 50 percent to 110 percent because of the increase in female attendance. To compare data from 2012, 110 percent of males were enrolled in primary school, while 112 percent of females were enrolled. Not only has education in Bhutan bridged the gender gap, but there’s now a dominance of girls in school. It is important to acknowledge that the percentage rests over 100 percent because of a lack of children completing primary school when they are expected to, creating an overabundance of students.

The 2012 results for secondary school, in regards to gender, are similar to that of primary school, with 50 percent males and 57 percent females enrolled. In this regard, the issue no longer lies between gender differences, but rather with a lack of all children attending secondary schooling, which is defined as grades 7 to 12.


Child labor exists as one of the main deterrents to girls’ education in Bhutan. Although the country declared the legal working age as 18-years-old and provides free primary education, one out of five children are required to work to aid their families. Furthermore, 2012’s child labor rates were higher from females than for males, with 3.1 percent of girls and 2.6 percent of boys participating in any form of labor.

Perhaps the overall low enrollment for secondary school is due to the need for children to work and aid their families, paired with additional school fees and the cost of uniforms and materials. It is also not mandatory for Bhutanese children to attend schooling, allowing families to deny their children the experience if they are needed elsewhere.


A UNICEF representative spoke with a Bhutanese girl named Tsherin, who shared her dream to become a civil engineer and build homes. She tells of her excitement to get to attend school and she plans to advocate schooling to her own children someday. Tsherin has UNICEF to thank for this opportunity because of their successful efforts in closing this gendered gap.

UNICEF advocated ending the discrimination and gendered stereotypes, while also aiding those who could not afford additional school fees. They also addressed the lack of schools in rural areas, which hinders student’s access because of distance, by implementing new schools into these remote areas. Additionally, UNICEF was not alone in this fight. UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) also sought the construction of new primary schools to meet the higher demand of students. But UNGEI also concerned themselves with advancing the training in which the teachers received, improving the student’s overall education.

With the help of these two organizations, education in Bhutan has undergone a tremendous feat by bridging the gendered gap and allowing all children an equal chance at becoming educated.

– Brianna White

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Bhutan
Bhutan is a tiny, isolated, primarily Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas that has only permitted television since 1998. In a country that measures development by Gross National Happiness in lieu in of Gross Domestic Product, does it make sense to ask how to help people in Bhutan? Given the often discriminatory treatment of journalists, non-Buddhists, the disabled, women and especially Nepali-speakers, the answer is yes—this question should still be asked.

Bhutan has had an extremely rapid transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy with the establishment of political parties in 2007 and held its first election in 2008. The Freedom House upgraded the country’s Freedom Status in 2009 from “not free” to “partly free,” citing the below reasons:

  • Journalists surveyed in 2012 expressed grave concerns about freedom and personal safety.
  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work on issues relating to ethnic Nepalese are not allowed to operate in Bhutan.
  • In 2007, Bhutan moved to a rule of law. The civilian police operate within the law and the Judiciary is considered autonomous.
  • The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in answer to corruption within the government, was given more leeway and power. The most recent Prime Minister, Togbay, does not tolerate corruption, and many prior powerful politicians are now being held accountable.

In the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons determined that the government of Bhutan did not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government did demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. In an example of how to help people in Bhutan, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) partnered with an international organization to conduct training on anti-trafficking toolkits and also to facilitate reports on Bhutan laws and policies on trafficking. Bhutan, over the last five years, has still remained a source and destination country for both forced labor and sex trafficking.

Bhutan has no formal relations with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and accepts financial assistance from primarily India, leaving Bhutan isolated from much of the world. It has recently shown a willingness to move toward democratic ideals and is also seeking to increase tourism after a long history of shunning foreigners. Learning how to help people in Bhutan means working to ensure adequate funding for the NGOs and other agencies dedicated to assisting the Bhutanese officials. One must work to stay vigilant and continue to support organizations dedicated to combating violations of human rights in Bhutan.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small Himalayan country of 750,000 people. Over one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Ninety-six percent affected by the causes of poverty in Bhutan live in rural areas. The ones most impacted work outside the country’s modern economy, and include farmers, day laborers and small traders.

The Power of Nature in Bhutan Poverty

One cause of poverty in Bhutan cannot be controlled: the Himalayan landscape.

Natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, can wreak havoc on communities and ruin crops. Forces of nature can wipe out entire villages, forcing those already living in poverty to re-build their lives.

When weather conditions prevent a bountiful harvest, farmers do not have alternative options to financially recover. Farmers often don’t own enough productive land and livestock to gain financial security. Opportunities to generate cash income outside of agriculture are extremely limited, making farmers exclusively dependent on the success crops.  In rural areas, off-farm employment in rural areas is rare.

Rugged terrain also makes travel difficult for rural populations. A person may have to walk three hours to a few days to reach a highway or main road. These demanding journeys limit access to social and health services, markets, technology and education.

The Struggle of Large Families, Students and Laborers 

Other causes of poverty in Bhutan are due to family size, lack of education and limited jobs.

Large families with a high dependency ratio (children and adults who cannot work) experience more poverty in both urban and rural areas. As of 2004, 49 percent of families in the rural areas of Bhutan had six or more members. These families experience labor shortages when youth and working adults leave their villages for the country’s urban centers.

A student in Bhutan’s rural regions may have to walk two to three hours each way to access the nearest primary school. Because access to education is difficult and limited, the adult literacy rate and opportunities to gain productive skills in the rural areas of Bhutan remain low. As of 2004, less than half of the Bhutan’s rural population was literate.

For day laborers and small traders outside of Bhutan’s agriculture-based economy, low earnings are often not enough to overcome poverty. Even when laborers and traders work more than one job, they are often unable to earn enough to live consistently above the poverty line.

Reducing Poverty and Staying Happy  

Local government is working to address the causes of poverty in Bhutan and build long-term solutions and comprehensive development programs, especially in rural areas.

Despite the various causes of poverty in Bhutan, the country is well-known as one of the happiest countries in Asia. As Bhutan aims to overcome poverty, it carries the rich success of its famous priority: happiness.


Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in BhutanBhutan is a small landlocked country in the Himalaya region of Asia. The country’s remoteness has largely affected its people by preventing economic progress until the 1960s. Until then, the country did not have a currency of its own, telephones, schools, hospitals or postal services, keeping the country completely secluded from the world around them. In 1961, the country’s king decided that the country needed to join the modern world, improving the poverty rate in Bhutan greatly.

In recent years, Bhutan has significantly lowered the number of citizens living below the poverty line. Between 2007 and 2012, the country was able to reduce the number of those living in poverty from 23 percent of the population to 12 percent. While most of the poverty reduction has been in rural areas of the country, these same families are the ones most at risk for slipping backwards.

The commercialization of agriculture as well as the creation of roads and hydropower projects allowed for more economic stability for those who made their living in the farming industry. While this has created great prosperity for rural areas in Bhutan, the agricultural industry is still the most vulnerable within the country, susceptible to environmental catastrophes.

While the poverty rate continues to decrease and the country’s GNI per capita increases yearly, the Bhutanese government refuses to stop there. The government has recently made a commitment to reduce multidimensional poverty to five percent by the end of 2018. One of the biggest initiatives under this new plan is to give land to 245 households that previously had unusable or no land.

While a good portion of the country’s people still live in poverty, Bhutan has seen incredible progress in the past 10 years. The poverty rate in Bhutan has seen a dramatic decrease and the government continues to implement programs in hopes of providing more opportunities for the people.

Olivia Hayes

Photo: Flickr

Top Diseases in BhutanOfficially the Kingdom of Bhutan, the country of Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas in South Asia, and is bordered by Tibet to the north and India to the south. It has a relatively small population of approximately 775,000 people who are susceptible to both non-communicable and communicable diseases. The good news is that many of the top diseases in Bhutan have declining mortality rates.

Non-communicable Diseases (NCD)

Cardiovascular diseases affect 47.8 percent of the Bhutanese population. The most recent data from 2013 show that the most deadly of these diseases are ischemic heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ischemic heart disease killed 89.2 people out of every 100,000 in 2013, and its mortality rate increased by 66 percent since 1990. By 2015, it remained the most common NCD in Bhutan. Strokes killed 72 people out of every 100,000, and its mortality rate has increased by an alarming 73 percent since 1990. Respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and pnuemoconiosis saw decreased mortality rates in 2013 by nine percent, 52 percent, and 27 percent since 1990, respectively.

Cancer is the second most common NCD in Bhutan, as it affects 12.4 percent of people in the country. Tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancers claimed the lives of five people out of every 100,000 in 2013, and its mortality rate has increased by 19 percent since 1990. In 2013, esophageal cancer took another five lives out of every 100,000, and the mortality rate has increased by eight percent since 1990. The mortality rate of liver cancer has increased by 60 percent since 1990, and lip and oral cavity cancers are becoming the most prevalent, and the mortality rate has increased by 33 percent between 1990 and 2013.

Communicable Diseases

In 1990, communicable diseases, combined with maternal and neonatal diseases, killed about 555 out of every 100,000 people. By 2013, the mortality rate had decreased significantly, claiming around 137 lives out of every 100,000.

As of 2013, 39.9 percent of people affected by communicable disease suffer from diarrhea, lower respiratory, and intestinal infectious diseases. Fortunately, the mortality rates of these three diseases dramatically decreased between 1990 and 2013, specifically by 84 percent for diarrheal disease, 75 percent for lower respiratory diseases, and 23 percent for intestinal infectious diseases.

As of 2017, the degree of risk for major infectious diseases is high. Three of the most common food or waterborne diseases are bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid fever. While a vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis A, typhoid fever is still claiming lives without any preventative measures in sight, and if left untreated, mortality rates could reach 20 percent of those affected. Dengue fever is the top vector-borne disease, and is caused by a bite from a mosquito. It causes death in five percent of cases.

Neonatal disorders affect about 31 percent of the population in Bhutan. The good news is that between 1990 and 2014, the mortality trend in children under five years of age dropped from about 4,000 deaths to 1,804 deaths. In 2013, the most deadly neonatal disorders were neonatal encephalopathy due to birth asphyxia and trauma, preterm birth complications, and other neonatal infections, like neonatal sepsis. Each of these disorders killed less than 18 babies per every 100,000 in 2013.

Though these top diseases in Bhutan are concerning, the consistent decreasing mortality rates seem promising for the population, and it appears that with proper and effective treatment and prevention measures, those affected by these illnesses might see light on the horizon.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in BhutanIn recent years Bhutan, a small, predominately mountainous country landlocked between China and India, has noticed an epidemiological shift in the disease pattern. The incidence of communicable diseases has significantly decreased, and the Bhutanese now suffer from high rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCD).

In 2008, Bhutan’s age-standardized rates for NCDs per 100,000 population were the highest among males and females in the South East Asia Region (SEAR). Currently, NCDs are the leading cause of morbidity in Bhutan, accounting for 62 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Below is a list of the top four most common diseases in Bhutan:

1. Diabetes

Diabetes are a set of chronic diseases resulting from elevated blood glucose. In Bhutan, there was a 63 percent increase in diabetes from 944 cases in 2004 to 2,605 cases in 2009.

A healthy diet and body weight, exercise and avoiding tobacco use are all preventative measures for type 2 diabetes, which results from the body’s ineffective use or production of insulin. In Bhutan, survey data indicated that one in three Bhutanese are overweight, 42.4 percent consume alcohol and the average daily salt consumption is nearly two times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limit.

2. Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD)

The same preventative measures are suggested for maintaining heart health. In 2008, mortality due to CVDs in SEAR was the highest in Bhutan, accounting for 53 percent of Bhutanese deaths.

3. Chronic Respiratory Diseases

Chronic respiratory diseases are diseases of the lung that narrow air passages and obstruct breathing. Common chronic respiratory diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and occupational lung disease.

Tobacco use increases risk for chronic respiratory diseases. Even with the ban on the sale of tobacco in Bhutan, tobacco use is widespread, as 34 percent of men and 14 percent of women reported using tobacco in 2011.

4. Cancers

In 2008, the age-standardized death rate due to cancers in Bhutan was 124.8 per 100,000 population. Of all cancers, lung and cervical cancers have the highest incidences among Bhutanese men and women, respectively.

So far, the government has initiated health-related behavioral interventions addressing the social determinants of NCDs; these include bans on tobacco sales and advertisements, laws prohibiting smoking in public and the establishment of outdoor gyms in every district.

“The government’s response to NCDs has been very encouraging,” says WHO’s Tshering Dhendup, “There is high-level political commitment.”

Included in the country’s upcoming five-year socioeconomic plan (2018–2023) is a multi-sectoral framework for the prevention and reduction of common diseases in Bhutan. This much-needed plan is expected to result in widely shared improvements in health status for the Bhutanese population.

Gabrielle Doran

Why Is Bhutan Poor
Why is Bhutan poor? The landlocked country, located in the eastern region of the Himalayan Mountains, is one of rich culture and strong national pride. Despite the lack of infrastructure and small economy, Bhutan is considered to be the happiest country in Asia. It is also one of the poorest, with a striking poverty rate of 12%. Factors such as rugged landscape, lack of education and intangible government goals all contribute to answering this question: Why is Bhutan poor?

Difficult Landscape

Due to its location in the Himalayas, Bhutan’s terrain is extremely hilly and rugged. It also has no contact with any body of water. This makes movement throughout and beyond the country extremely difficult. The lack of mobility further impacts the ability of the Bhutanese government to make health care and education readily available throughout the country.

Lack of Education

Most children have to walk two to three hours to find a primary school. Consequently, 47% of the population above the age of six is uneducated. Without an education, finding a job becomes extremely difficult. Most jobs require specialized skills, so the impoverished Bhutanese population is often limited to either subsistence farming, trading or laboring.

Farmers, especially in rural regions, are severely limited in capital and resources and often work for the bare necessities. Given that 96% of the poor live in rural areas, most of them get stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. Even if they were to get enough capital to produce more, due to inadequate access to markets, they would not be able to take part in much trade. Consequently, education certainly plays a big factor in answering the question, why is Bhutan poor?

Natural Disasters

Bhutan is often struck by natural calamities due to its mountainous landscape. Floods and landslides make it impossible for any major infrastructural development to take place. This also increases the cost of goods and services. These natural disasters also affect residents’ health by causing an increase in diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. This can prevent already poor families from going to work and increase medical costs.

Despite these sub-par living conditions, the government continues to focus on Gross National Happiness instead of improving the economy. With such a large proportion of the population living under the poverty line, Bhutan must rise up and focus on tangible objectives.

Recently, the government has implemented legislation, such as the National Rehabilitation Programs and the Rural Economic Advancement Program, that aim to help needy individuals by giving them land and better socioeconomic opportunities. Bhutan may have a long way to go, but these programs have certainly propelled them in the right direction and away from the question: why is Bhutan poor?

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr