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Friday, February 27th, 2015 - 1:28 PM
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As for human-wildlife conflict, prevention is better than cure

Tackling the root cause of the growing problem is the only sustainable solution

Discussions: More than finding a solution, human-wildlife conflict, which is becoming a growing challenge in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, needs to be prevented.

At a discussion on “Taming human wildlife conflicts in the HKH: forest management or crisis management”, representatives from the region shared that, despite having several measures in place, human-wildlife conflict has been on the rise.

The issue is compounded with protected areas increasingly becoming isolated due to fragmentation of natural forest cover, infrastructure development and intensified agriculture disturbing the natural habitat of wildlife species.  Countries in the HKH belt, which include Bhutan, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Pakistan, are facing similar conflicts with wildlife, such as leopard, black bear and wild dogs.

Wildlife Institute of India’s S Sathyakumar said human wildlife tensions are easier to prevent than solve; interventions should include management of attractants, education and awareness, and immediate compensation.

“It should also include physical barriers and wildlife deterrents and avoid negative encounters,” he stressed, adding traditional methods of keeping wild animals at bay, like beating empty metal containers and fencing would be effective protective measures against crop damage by wild animals.

Dr Dhananjai Mohan of Uttarkhand forest department suggested preventive measures, like barriers and removal of vegetation, monitoring of problem animals, better vigilance, alternate cropping, and capture or removal of problem animals.

While various panelists suggested measures, such as killing, hunting or culling of animals as the last resort, many participants disagreed.  Kunal Satyarthi of Forest Research Institute also said that capturing and relocating animals might not help solve the problem.

In Bhutan, Karma from the department of forest and park services (DoFPS) shared that electric or solar fencing has been the most successful measure, especially in keeping monkeys away from the fields.

“We designed our own local fabricated electric fencing that wouldn’t kill the wildlife species but prevent them from entering the farm,” he said

Yet, program director with DoFPS, Kinley Tenzin, said, wildlife conflict was still increasing like in any other South Asia countries, and no permanent solutions had been found.  He said with developmental activities rapidly increasing, rural-urban migration is also on the rise simultaneously, which, if not controlled, would aggravate wildlife conflict, which would keep increasing.

“When villages start getting empty, which is happening in Bhutan at a high rate, the village turns into a forest,” he said. “That’s how the wildlife comes closer to the remaining settlements.”

Kinley Tenzin said farmers could also kill within a distance of 200 metres of their farms. “But the compensation schemes have been challenging because the funds are mostly donated,” he said. “We don’t have our own measures in which community is involved, although we’ve been compensating farmers based on the severity of attack.”

To this, one of the panelists suggested Bhutanese communities adopt an insurance scheme, which has been successful in states like Himachal Pradesh, where farmers pay a fee that is compensated later for the loss of farm or livestock.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Dehradun

 

25 power tillers provided to Mongar and Lhuentse

unnamed-1Mechanisation: The agriculture ministry hands over power tillers to the 25 gewogs in Mongar and Lhuentse

The eastern districts are given priority in providing agriculture machinery  

 Farming: The 25 gewogs of Mongar and Lhuentse dzongkhags received a power tiller each yesterday.

In the morning, the eight gewogs of Lhuentse received its power tillers in Autsho while another 17 power tillers were presented to the local government leaders of Mongar in the evening.

During the handing taking ceremony, National Assembly Speaker Jigmi Zangpo said the agriculture ministry decided to give the power tiller in the eastern dzongkhags to address farm labour shortage and feminisation of agriculture. The power tillers are also expected to help optimise land utilisation, land intensification and promote commercialisation of agriculture

Agriculture ministry’s respective gewog extension officers would manage and hire out the tillers to farmers.

“After reaching the power tiller at the gewog centre, there should be no misunderstanding between farmers and chiwogs,” the speaker said. “The government wants result in terms of how much farmers can produce and not how much they can earn.”

Agriculture minister Yeshi Dorji said the government had pledged to provide a power tiller in each of the 1,040 chiwogs in the country.

The Agriculture Machinery Centre’s (AMC) programme director, Karma Thinley, said AMC stopped selling power tillers to farmers since they started providing power tillers on hire. Currently there are about 160 such machines provided on hire across the country.

“We’re setting up service centres in the gewogs and eight such centres were set up last year,” he said, adding that currently centres are being established in Lhamoizingkha and Tsirang.

Given the small number of power tillers in the east today, lyonpo said eastern Bhutan would be given first preference when it comes to providing power tillers. Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said, while the east has less than 300 such machines, the western region has more than 1,000 power tillers.

AMC would receive 239-power tillers by the end of February, which the Japanese government is providing under the KR II grant.

Today, the minister and the Speaker will hand over eight power tillers in Trashiyangtse, 15 to Trashigang tomorrow and then move to Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel.

By Tashi Phuntsho

Leak suspect denies guilt

The council has approached other agencies, like OAG, to pursue the matter

BCSEA: The official, who is alleged to have leaked the class XII English II paper last month, has not yet admitted to leaking the paper.

Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment (BCSEA) completed its preliminary investigation into the leak a week after a student filed the complaint.

The complainant, a girl student, received questions at 11:30pm on December 12, the night before the final paper of the year, English II paper.

Through the text messages, the investigation team traced the leak to a ‘dealing person’, who allegedly shared a hard copy of the paper to a girl student in one of the schools in Paro.

BCSEA officials ruled out teachers and council officials.  While the alleged official denied any involvement, the student, on two occasions of interview, gave in writing that the man had given her the paper.

“But we have no legal teeth to conduct any further investigation, so we’ve approached other agencies for help,” a BCSEA official said. “We can’t push the person to admit.”

Education minister Mingbo Dukpa, who is the chairman of the council’s board, said work is ongoing.

Kuensel learnt that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is studying the case.  If further investigation were needed, it would forward the case to police to intervene.

But police sources said it has not been engaged, as of yesterday evening.

Meanwhile, parents and students are still questioning how the paper was leaked in the first place, given the stringent measures in place, such as undertakings from the dealing individuals of the question papers, to prevent such incidents.

Bardo-Trong’s member of parliament Lekey Dorji, recently tweeted, “Besides the talk of re-exams, I am interested in how the paper leaked, and who and how is the culprit made accountable.”

The council board reviewed its earlier decision on the paper leak after the cabinet intervened and asked it to reconsider its decision.  Exactly a month after the leak, the board decided to go ahead with evaluating the paper.

The council recalled English teachers to evaluate the paper at the College of Science and Technology and they would complete the evaluation on January 25.

By Tshering Palden

His Majesty celebrates Chunyipai losar in Autsho

20150121-907A2090Occasion: His Majesty The King celebrates the Chunyipai Losar with the people of Mongar and Lhuntshe in Autsho.

Celebration: Thousands of people arrived at the Autsho school ground in their festive best, from across Lhuentse, while some travelled from as far as Mongar, for the opportunity to celebrate the Chunyipai Losar with their King yesterday.

His Majesty spent the day among the people and granted a grand public tokha.

The day was celebrated with traditional songs and dances. Officials serving His Majesty the King entertained the people and a lottery draw, with items essential to farmers as prizes, was also organised.

“I have received several opportunities to celebrate such occasions and receive audience with His Majesty,” Jambay Dorji, 78, who lives in Mongar with his wife and daughter, said. Jambay and his wife had travelled to Gyalpoizhing to celebrate Chunyipai Losar with His Majesty the King last year as well.

“We are fortunate to receive such opportunities many times as His Majesty is always among his people,” Jambay said.

Hundreds of people from Lhuentse lined up along the highway yesterday to offer tshogchang and welcome His Majesty. His Majesty visited Dungkar, and offered nyendhar and prayers at the Dungkar Choje Nagtshang.

His Majesty also granted an audience to the people of Dungkar and neighbouring villages.

Earlier on January 19, His Majesty visited the Second Winter Youth Enrichment Programme (WYEP) in Gyalpoizhing where girls from across the six eastern dzongkhags are participating in a winter camp.

His Majesty granted audience to the girls and graced an exhibition and a cultural programme put together by the participants.

Most of the participants would otherwise find employment at orange collection depots or road construction, which renders them vulnerable, even though it means helping supplement their family income.

During the camp, the girls attended lessons in English, dance, information technology, soap and candle making, knitting and art.

They also received counselling, career guidance, scouting and life skills training. Guest lecturers spoke on democracy, spirituality, drugs, environment, hygiene, reproductive health and other related topics.

The girls received free health check ups at the camps and more than 90 who require glasses will receive them, facilitated by the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon.

His Majesty granted the girls a copy of a special edition of the story of Lord Buddha, as well as soelra equivalent to the amount they would have earned if they had spent the month working on daily wages.

The WYEP was organised on the command of His Majesty the King, to give girls from the eastern dzongkhags an opportunity to spend their winter holidays meaningfully, and help them gain various skills, self-confidence and a boost in their academics.

Filling the void left by the CoS dissolution

Amid talk of a trust deficit between govt. and bureaucracy, the reinstitution of the committee is a must

Governance: More than a month after the Cabinet discontinued the committee of secretaries (CoS), Cabinet officials said it was yet to establish a task force to review the functions of CoS and recommend if and how the committee needed to be reinstituted.

On December 12 last year, the Cabinet discontinued CoS with immediate effect, stating that it had “exceeded” its mandate by discussing issues outside the scope of its terms of reference, and has purposely withheld information, including important decisions from the government.

The CoS had discussed the allegations of corruption against a government secretary by an Indian magazine, Enertia, and had decided to request the government of India’s intervention on the allegations.

While these allegations are yet to be established, and contrary to what the opposition said, and some sections of the society felt, the suspension of CoS, according to some ministers, has not impacted the coordination between the Cabinet and the bureaucracy.

Although observers cite the recent issue of B.Ed. graduates as a classic case of lack of coordination among agencies, ministers argue that this issue would have come directly to the Cabinet even if CoS was in place.

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said it was business as usual, and that the government had so far not faced any coordination issue after CoS was discontinued.

“It’s not that the discontinuation of CoS has paralysed the whole bureaucracy,” he said. “There are several other mechanisms in place to coordinate and discuss cross-sectoral issues.”

While that may be the case, the Cabinet did highlight the significance of CoS when it said that CoS was an important institutional arrangement established to enhance good governance and promote transparency, accountability, efficiency and professionalism.

“CoS meets once a week to ensure that the executive functions of the government are implemented efficiently and effectively by coordinating government policies, program and projects among the ministries.”  According to government officials, who requested anonymity, issues discussed and reviewed at the CoS level have weight and are an advantage for the Cabinet to take decisions.

Whether CoS would have made any difference is another issue, but the way the government handled the recent issues of English II paper leakage and the B.Ed. graduates has got people questioning the efficiency of the government in taking decisions.

From the drafting of the manifesto to the appointment of the Cabinet ministers, lack of coordination within the government, or between the Cabinet and members of Parliament has been pointed out several times as an issue for the government.

For instance, MPs were surprised when the Prime Minister, during the National Assembly’s question hour last June, said that the ‘meet the people’ programme was not a government initiative but the party’s.

Kuensel learnt that, after the PM’s clarification, civil servants, who used to accompany ministers to the weekly program, stopped attending it, saying they were apolitical and should refrain from attending programs organised by a political party.

In the last session, MPs and the Cabinet ministers were again not on the same page when the house went to vote on a particular clause in the budget bill that required the budget and appropriation bills to be referred to a committee.  A tea break that the Speaker denied was what made all the difference, MPs later said.

Following the Cabinet’s decision to surrender the three government secretaries to the civil service commission, members of the opposition and other parties said that the move has instilled fear among the civil servants.

Earlier this month, Druk Nyamrup tshogpa said that it believes that there was no trust between the government and the bureaucracy.

However, lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said this was not true and that the opposition and other parties are working up the civil servants, and creating a rift between the civil service and the Cabinet.

“One of the reasons for surrendering the three secretaries was to protect the trust between the bureaucracy and the government,” he said. “The actions against the secretaries were taken because they didn’t trust the Cabinet; there was a trust deficit.”

Meanwhile, members of the opposition said CoS was the first line of defense for the government and instituted in 2000 to address the issue of misuse of pool vehicles in the government.

“Without coordination and coordinated effort, it’ll be difficult to achieve national objectives, because effective coordination within the government would suffer,” opposition member Khandu Wangchuk said.

Leader of the opposition, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, said the CoS had two important roles – to advise the Cabinet and implement government policies. “The Cabinet might take policy decisions according to their pledges and manifesto, but the implementation of those will have to be coordinated by CoS.”

By Sonam Pelden

 

Fishing for FDI

DSC_3151MP Khandu Wangchuk

As a small fish in a big pond (read India and China), Bhutan has its work (of attracting funds) cut out for it 

Investment: Without changing the ground realities, the country cannot gain investors’ confidence and trust even with revision of FDI policy, says the opposition.

Officials from the ministry of economic affairs (MoEA) said the new policy would improve the investment climate in the country because restrictive provisions had now been relaxed.

Figures from the ministry also reveal that 18 new FDI projects have been approved in principle.  In the last five years (2010-14), 33 FDI projects worth Nu 24.77B were approved.

However, the opposition maintains that incentives and policies were quite liberal even earlier. “Because of past policy quite a number of FDI came in by Bhutan’s standard,” the former finance minister, Wangdi Norbu said.

Sources said that, following lyonchhoen’s address at Vibrant Gujarat, some investors showed interest and discussions were held.

Opposition member Khandu Wangchuk said that the investor’s first priority was the returns on investment made, not the environment.  The former economic affairs minister said that investors initially got carried away by the clean, green and sustainable policies of the government.  But after going back and doing their maths, they drop their investment.

“We mustn’t fool ourselves by thinking that ours is a fantastic country to invest in,” he said, adding the county has no capital, no market, technology and only a small labour force.  He said little changes and relaxation in the policy may help a bit, and this is so much the country could do, because bigger economies like China, USA and India are also competing for the FDI pie.

“But we can’t give up ….a lot of work needs to be done and we must find ways within this limitation,” said Khandu Wangchuk.

While MoEA officials maintain that FDI is not the ultimate solution for the country’s economic development but a means for propagating growth, Khandu Wangchuk said that, for Bhutan, growth is related to FDI because the country does not have capital to invest for itself. “Without investments, economy can’t grow.”

Opposition member Kinga Tshering said there has always been a policy to attract investors.

While deals worth billions of USD were signed at Vibrant Gujarat, he was skeptical as to how much of that was coming to Bhutan.  Apart from 2000 cows, he said he had never heard of any substantial deals being signed with Bhutan.

The opposition leader, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, said that cosmetic surgery was not going to do any good, indicating that the government must identify what kind of projects were clean, green and sustainable, instead of being vague.

Meanwhile, figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that Bhutan’s net FDI was about USD 74M in 2007, which dropped to USD 3M and USD 6.5M in the following two consecutive years.

In 2010, when the FDI policy was revised and liberalised, the net FDI increased to USD 18.9M and dropped to around USD 16M in 2011.

By Tshering Dorji 

The future of our farms

The regional climate change conference that concluded yesterday was a stark reminder of our priorities.

In the midst of all the talk and discussions of relaxing foreign direct investment, slackening GDP growth and increasing unemployment, even for the trained and the educated, we are reminded of an important sector, the agriculture sector, which still is the mainstay of our economy.

It is a good time to pause and look at our priorities.  If there are stern warnings from climate change experts, our agriculture experts have worrying news – that climate change can threaten the country’s food security.  Living in a fragile and mountainous ecosystem, we are vulnerable to climate change.  This is not the first time that we have been warned.  We are in the know.

What we don’t know is how prepared are we, or if we are even preparing at all.  Listening to agriculturists, it seems that there is a long to-do list.  Climate change is a complex issue.  The tricky thing is that it is not in our hands.  We live in a region, where scientists predict the worse repercussions in an event of a mass destruction from climate change.

If climate change affected those who are chiefly responsible, ours would be a safe place to live. But that’s not how it is.  We will pay the price for actions caused thousands of miles away.  And we have experienced it.  Glacial outburst floods, odd rainfall pattern and diseases are not new to Bhutan.

We can obviously look into the non-climatic issues that are in our hands.  We are not self sufficient, ironically, unlike in the past.  We have more farm roads, but less access to market, more irrigation channels but increasing fallowing agricultural land.  We have more technology but less productivity.

Going by statistics, 69 percent of the population still depends on agriculture, making it a crucial sector.  In our race for material development, this crucial sector cannot be neglected.  There is recognition from the highest authority.  People who return to farming and contribute towards food self sufficiency are rewarded and recognised.  This is encouraging.

On the other hand, farmers are feeling that importing food is cheaper than producing at home.  This shows that there are gaps in our policy and planning.  With dedicated focus and attention, steps towards food self-sufficiency can be taken, even if not wholly achieved.

Somewhere we are going wrong.  And this is evident from the budget allocation.  Budget outlay for agriculture has been declining with every five-year plan.  This is not because we have developed the agriculture sector, but because we believe in other priorities.

Given our advantages, like having clean air, water and unpolluted land, we have a fair advantage in producing food.  But this is not being explored.  The private sector that is expected to provide technical backstopping, market linkage and innovation is not interested in agriculture.   They would rather import strange varieties of food products that are way out of reach for many.

The older generation marvels at the pace of development, but sometimes they say they miss the past, when life was less stressful and less was more.

Picture story

His Holiness the Je Khenpo’s representative, the Dorji Lopen yesterday appointed lopen Goembo, 42 from Nyisho gewog in Wangdue, lopen Dorji, 42 from Guma gewog in Punakha and lopen Tshewang Rinzin, 41 of Haa as Khudrungs of the Zhung Dratshang.

    

Teachers undergo crash course in integrated farming

unnamed-2Teachers being instructed on farming techniques

In pursuance of the broader national goal of food self sufficiency

Training: Come the new academic session, students of Tshaphel lower secondary school (LSS) could have a dairy and fungiculture farm of their own.

This is what the school’s agriculture focal teacher, Tashi Tenzin, who is among 20 teachers from 10 districts attending the ongoing crash course on integrated farming at the College of Natural Resources (CNR) at Lobesa in Punakha, plans to do.

Tashi Tenzin became the school’s agriculture teacher in 2012.  He has special interest in agriculture and related subjects.  The school’s agriculture programme has 35 student members.  The school has poultry, piggery and grows vegetables.

“Results have been impressive,” said Tashi Tenzin.

“We’re taught about mushroom cultivation, organic farming with focus on chemical fertiliser, and how to make compost for organic farming to encourage organic farming,” said Tashi Tenzin.  “We’d also get to learn about poultry and livestock, visit piggery, poultry and mushroom farms.”

“Until now, it was difficult to implement farming in schools without training. Now I feel confident to teach what I learnt to students,” said a participant teacher.

CNR’s senior lecturer, RB Chhetri, said that the main objective of the course is to provide basic training on growing fruits, mushrooms and vegetables, organic farming, compose, livestock production, nutrition, food safety, farm budgeting and record keeping, among others.

The training is expected to equip the school focal teachers with knowledge and skills to take a lead role in school agriculture activities and enhance the nutrition supplement in schools.

The teachers were provided with both practical and technical training on vegetable and livestock production.

“If students are taught farming and livestock management, they could take farming as profession after they leave school,” said RB Chhetri.

The World Food Programme and the government funded the course to strengthen food production and nutrition supplementation in school feeding programme and to encourage students to take up farming as career option.

The nine-day course started on January 19. Council for RNR Research of Bhutan (CoRRB) and Department of School Education are conducting the course.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Punakha

Picture story

Permanent representative to the UN Daw Penjo presents credentials to the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary General of the UN, Achim Steiner in Geneva on January 20. Bhutan has been a recipient of UNEP support since 1999.