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Conservation vs. economic benefits

The establishment of human-wildlife conflict endowment fund is most welcome. The agriculture ministry’s target is to raise at least USD 35 million. It has reached Nu 40 million. The government will add Nu 16M every year to the fund. The fund will serve as the seed money and compensations for crop damage and livestock losses paid from interest.

For Bhutan, where almost 60 percent of its population still depend directly on livestock and crop production for livelihoods, human-wildlife conflict is a serious concern. Most of the vulnerable farming communities reside either close to protected areas or in reserved forests and that has made balancing economic development and conservation a critical challenge. The loss of crops and livestock in poor rural areas can have a devastating impact to households, while retaliatory killing of wildlife flies in the face of Bhutan’s long-term conservation and maintenance of biodiversity.

Reports tell us that we are today about 80 percent food self-sufficient, but this fact must be read against the backdrop of rising food imports and shrinking agriculture land. Add to this the problem of decreasing budget for the sector. For instance, the sector that employs more than half the population is alloted only Nu 3.05 billion in the current Plan. The budget allocation for the sector has been declining since the seventh Plan. The last time the ministry received the highest budget was in the 3rd and 4th Plan where 23 percent of the total budget outlay was allocated to agriculture and forest ministry.

The country expects to increase rice production by 15 percent by bringing at least 50 percent of the fallow land under cultivation and by encouraging farmers to engage in growing spring rice. Rural revitalisation is an umbrela idea under which comes the need for policies, institutions, and investments that take advantage of new opportunities to make rural areas vibrant and healthy places to live and work.  In this light, endowment fund could play a critical role.

The previous government disbursed Nu 300,000 to each gewog to compensate the farmers to address human instances of wildlife-conflict. It was far too insignifant to the farmers and a needless extravagance on the government’s part. While the fund will go a long way in making agriculture sustainable for our farmers, perhaps we should also explore more effective preventive measures to keep the marauding animals at bay. Many conservationists and experts believe that while dealing with human-wildlife conflicts, prevention is better than cure.

Reducing rural poverty and improving food insecurity could remain a dream otherwise.

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