About a year ago a work colleague and I decided we wanted to start a beekeeping project at the Royal Thimphu College (RTC). The purpose was three-fold; first we wanted to aid in Bhutan’s quest for organic farming and encourage a method to improve local crop yields, second we wanted to initiate an additional scientific component to the curriculum in a number of our courses at the RTC, and thirdly we hoped to create institutional-community linkages for sustainable development (exploring agricultural alternatives and poverty alleviation).
This last month (March 2015) our bees officially arrived on campus after a day’s journey from the center of Bhutan, Bumthang. Beekeeping is not new to Bhutan, the Apis cerana is an Asian bee that has native populations throughout Bhutan, mostly in the south. The Apis cerana has often been kept in hollowed out tree trunks or even in the outside walls of local homes. However, Apis cerana does not produce much honey and are prone to absconding behavior making it an unreliable source of income. In contrast, Apis millifera has seen much success in beekeeping operations and has shown promise in the Himalayas as well. Apis millifera was introduced to Bhutan in 1986 by Mr. Fritz Maurer.1 It was from Mr. Maurer’s operation that we purchased three starter hives for the RTC campus.
There is of course some concern that Apis millifera is not native to the region, and for sustainability purposes I would encourage native varieties for various agricultural development projects. However, Apis cerana has not shown itself to be a proper specimen for economic development, yet research has been done to make it more feasible.2 Apis millifera has not shown unacceptable environmental impacts, but it is not without it’s problems. Apis millifera requires more management effort as it has not adapted to the Himalayan environment and is prone to various illnesses.
I am not a beekeeping expert; I’ll leave that to my Bhutanese work colleague. However, I do hope to encourage educational opportunities at the RTC and create development opportunities for rural communities. It is with this aim that I take part in this project and will provide periodic updates on our progress in the future.
1 Gupta, R.K., W. Reybroeck, J vanVeen, and A. Gupta (Eds.). (2014). Beekeeping for Poverty Alleviation and Livelihood Security Volume 1: Technological Aspects of Beekeeping. Springer Publishing.
2 ICIMOD. (2002). Retreating Indigenous Bee Populations (Apis cerana) and Livelihoods and Himalayan Farmers. Website: http://www.icimod.org/?q=1509. Accessed on March 28, 2015.
Over the last 2 years for which I’ve taught the Planning/EIA course at the Royal Thimphu College, I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with the Bhutan Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MAF) to visit their research sites in the Woochu Watershed. The Woochu Watershed is a sub-watershed of the larger Pa-chu, which further unites with the Thimphu-chu to form the Wangchu Watershed.
On March 27th I took 68 students, with our host Dr. Purna of the MAF, to explore various research sites throughout the Woochu Watershed. This area, located near Bonday on the way to Paro town, has been a key pilot project for the MAF to distinguish how various land uses effect water quality and quantity in the larger system. The key driver for such a study is the economy as the Wangchu Watershed contains a number of hydropower plants. Hydropower is the primary economic driver in Bhutan and is exported to India, thus there is motivation on behalf of the Government to promote healthy watersheds.
As a class we were able to observe signs of the various land uses occurring in the watershed including agriculture, grazing, and illegal forestry. Data-loggers have been placed at strategic points in the system to measure stream flow and water quality; this data is used to compare sites of different uses and assess how each use positively or negatively impacts the watershed. There was a stark contrast between upstream monitoring stations and the outfall into the Pa-chu. Visually, students quickly recognized the decrease in water quality, with human settlements being the major culprit.
While Bhutan has a number of community-managed resources, mostly forest management units and a few watersheds, the Woochu is not one of them. Residents of Woochu have not yet linked the health of their watershed to their quality of life and socio-economic interests. Educational campaigns may help temporarily establish goals for watershed health, however empowerment and capacity building for a locally managed watershed could also meet such goals with the benefit of long-term sustainability.
A Payment for Environmental Services (PES) arrangement has also been discussed in the past to help establish economic motivators for the community. Such a scheme would involve reserving a percentage of hydropower profits for upstream communities who willingly restrain their free-use of the water to provide improved water quality and quantity downstream for hydro-plant use. However, this idea has remained within the discussion of government researchers.
Whether it is community-based management or a PES scheme, I believe that the Woochu Watershed would benefit from either, or a combination, of these strategies. Economic interests of the community need to be linked to the health of the watershed.
Despite being in the country for a year and a half, I have yet to see the bulk of tourist destinations that exist in Bhutan. In compliance with the ‘high value, low impact’ tourism policy, much of what is available is outside my price range including numerous high-end hotels, trekking destinations in the far north, and so on. These various tourism products however, are outside of the scope of what ecotourism tries to provide. In the past I have tried to differentiate between traditional tourism and ecotourism, please see “Ecotourism”. Ecotourism products include tourism options that not only provide eco-friendly options to experience the outdoors, but also deliver economic and livelihood benefits to local communities. This often requires that local communities are involved in decision-making, management, and ownership of the ecotourism venture. However, in Bhutan’s case, such ecotourism options are difficult for rural communities to invest in due to policies that favor a specific type of tourism. Such policies target wealthier travellers that expect an increased level of accommodation and services, which are often not associated with the ‘raw’ style of ecotourism, which seeks to open a window into the lives of local peoples and their environment. Dhan Gurung and Klaus Seeland were correct in their estimation that a “prerequisite for a substantial promotion of ecotourism would be changes in the Bhutanese tourism policy to encourage the diversification of tourism products”. 1
Another interesting element of Gurung’s expanded research is that when various experts were polled to determine which tourism strategies should be employed to best meet community development goals, the current status quo ranked at the bottom of the list.2 The number one option ranked by experts was community based ecotourism, followed by community based socio-cultural tours and then trekking. Granted, this specific study was focused on scenarios inside Jigme Dorji National Park, however I think similar parallels exist outside Bhutan’s protected areas system.
Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974 with a mere 287 visitors. In 2013 there were 52,783 international visitors, which is apart from the 63,426 regional arrivals (India, Bangladesh, and Maldives).3 The question is, who is experiencing the benefits of such an increase? It seems that relatively few tourism companies/individuals are, leaving much of the rural population untouched. A demand for ecotourism is on the rise and may be the answer to proper distribution of tourism economic benefits.
1 Gurung, D.B. & Seeland, K. (2008). Ecotourism in Bhutan: Extending its Benefits to Rural Communities. Annals of Tourism Research 35(2), 489-508.
2 Gurung, D.B. & Scholz, R. (2008). Community-based ecotourism in Bhutan: Expert evaluation of stakeholder-based scenarios. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 15, 397-411.
3 Tourism Council of Bhutan. (2014). Bhutan Tourism Monitor: Annual Report 2013. Thimphu, Bhutan.