COMDEKS Project: Gamri Watershed, Bhutan
SUBMITTED ORGANISATION :
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Ministry of the Environment, Japan; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; United Nations University (UNU)
DATE OF SUBMISSION :
Bhutan (Trashigang Dzongkhag District)
The Community Development and Knowledge Management for the Satoyama Initiative Programme (COMDEKS) was launched in 2011 to support local community activities that maintain and rebuild target production landscapes and seascapes, and to collect and disseminate knowledge and experiences from successful on-the-ground actions so that, if feasible, they can be adapted by other communities throughout the world to their specific conditions. The programme provides small-scale finance to local community organizations in developing countries to support sound biodiversity and ecosystem management as well as to develop or strengthen sustainable livelihood activities planned and executed by community members themselves. The target landscape selected for COMDEKS activities is the Gamri watershed, located in the eastern region of the country, with an area of 745 square km.
Ecosystem restoration, Alternative livelihoods, Resilience, Sustainable Land Management, Knowledge management
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
The summary sheet for this case study is available here.
Bhutan is a small landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, bordered by the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north and the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal and Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh to its southwest, south, and east respectively. The country is mountainous, with a rugged and steep terrain. Altitudes plunge from over 7,500 m at the highest point to less than 200 m within a distance of 170 km in the north-south direction.
The target landscape selected for COMDEKS activities is the Gamri watershed, located in the eastern region of the country, with an area of 745 km2. The watershed spreads over eight administrative blocks known as gewogs in Trashigang Dzongkhag District: Sakteng, Merak, Phongmey, Shongphu, Bidung, Bartsham, Radhi and Samkhar Gewogs. The Gamri River is formed by 19 tributaries originating in these eight gewogs. The Gamri is one of the main tributaries of the Drangme Chhu River, which drains into the Brahmaputra River in India and finally flows into the Bay of Bengal.
The Gamri watershed is divided into three distinct zones, based on elevation, terrain, land cover, and predominant agricultural activities (see Figure B-1 and Table B-1). Zone I (upstream) is comprised mostly of highland pasture and mixed conifer forest, with altitudes ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 m, and an average slope gradient of 20-30 degrees. Zone II (midstream) and Zone III (downstream) contain pastures and agricultural fields, with altitudes ranging from 700 to 2,500 m, and a slope gradient of 21-40 degrees.
Table B-1. Gamri Watershed Zones
|Zones||Gewogs||Area (km2)||Altitude (m)|
|Zone I-Upstream||Merak & Sakteng||375.52||2,500-4,000|
|Zone II-Midstream||Radhi & Phongmey||130.57||700-2500|
|Zone III-Downstream||Bidung, Bartsham, Samkhar & Shongphu|
Biological Resources and Land Use
The Gamri landscape is a significant watershed in eastern Bhutan containing more than 66 scattered settlements. The watershed was selected as the pilot landscape for COMDEKS activities mainly due to the significant biological diversity it contains and in recognition of the growing pressures on the landscape from grazing, over-extraction of fodder and fuel wood, landslides and the drying up of water sources.
The watershed covers a diverse climate and contains an array of ecosystems ranging from alpine meadows to broadleaf forests. Land cover consists of 69.3 percent forest, 15 percent natural pasture, and 13.9 percent agricultural land. The remaining 1.6 percent of the surface area is comprised of water bodies, rocky outcrops, settlements and eroded areas. Agriculture, livestock (including yak) rearing, and weaving are the economic mainstays of the people of the watershed.
One significant source of biodiversity within the watershed is the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS), which covers almost three-fourths of Merak and Sakteng Gewogs. The SWS is representative of a diverse eastern Himalayan ecosystem, consisting of alpine meadows, temperate forest and warm broadleaf forest. Of the 46 species of rhododendrons found in Bhutan, 35 species grow wild in the sanctuary, which is popularly known as the “Paradise of Rhododendrons.” Overall, the sanctuary harbours at least 203 plant species, including herbs, shrubs, and trees, and is home to globally threatened and endangered animal species like the Red Panda, Himalayan Serow, Wild Dog, Goral, Common Leopard, Capped Langur, Himalayan Black Bear, Musk Deer and Jungle Cat, to name a few.
About 70 percent of Bhutan’s total area is covered by forest and more than 50 percent is safeguarded as protected areas and biological corridors. Agriculture and livestock rearing are the main economic activities, with an estimated 69 percent of the population engaged in farming. With regard to the Gamri Watershed, Zone I has the highest livestock population in the target landscape, and cattle herding is the main income-generating activity. Zone II is known for its grain and staple crop production, including rice, maize, and potatoes. Both agriculture and livestock husbandry predominate in Zone III.
Installing solar fencing to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, Yenangbrangsa, COMDEKS Bhutan
The Gamri watershed has a population of 32,364. The mean annual household income is Nu. 90,657 (US$1,333); the poverty rate is 12 percent; and the literacy rate is 60 percent. The Gamri watershed zones can be characterized as follows:
Zone I – Upstream: This zone includes the gewogs Merak and Sakteng, which are inhabited by about 4,200 people. The communities primarily comprise nomadic yak herders, locally known as Brokpas. Cattle/yak rearing is the main socioeconomic activity in this zone, contributing over 83 percent of household income. Zone I is highly significant as it is located in the upstream portion of the watershed and has the highest number of sub-watersheds. At the same time, it has the highest livestock population, which has resulted in severe land degradation due to overgrazing and deforestation from fuel wood extraction (for cooking and heating) and lopping of tress for fodder. Landslides, ravines and gullies are common in this zone, causing the loss of large areas of forests, meadows and grazing areas every year, and triggering serious consequences downstream.
Zone II – Midstream: This zone includes the gewogs Radhi and Phongmey, with a total population of 9,865 people. Farming and livestock husbandry are the major economic activities in this zone. Radhi is often referred to as the “rice bowl of eastern Bhutan” because of its fertile rice fields and grain production. Other main crops cultivated include paddy, maize, soybean, potatoes and vegetables. Additionally, Radhi is famous for silk textiles (buray gho and kira). Major challenges faced by Zone II include loss of agricultural land from flash floods (mainly triggered by overgrazing and deforestation in Zone I) and landslides during the monsoon season. Farm roads are built with poor drainage systems, thereby exacerbating these problems and causing loss of valuable crop land every year. In addition, human-wildlife conflict is a major problem in this zone, causing loss of traditional crop diversity. The crops are destroyed by wildlife such as porcupines, monkeys and wild boars, causing significant economic losses every year. In some cases, farmers leave their lands fallow due to their inability to cope with these depredations.
Zone III – Downstream: This zone covers the four gewogs Bidung, Samkhar, Shongphu and Bartsham, with a total zone population of about 18,290. As in Zone II, agriculture and livestock husbandry are the predominant economic activities. Rangjung, the economic hub of the watershed, is located in this zone. The key challenges here are somewhat similar to those in Zone II, in terms of landslides, flash floods and human-wildlife conflict. However, Zone III faces additional problems including water scarcity, both for drinking and irrigation, and frequent forest fires during the winter season, destroying large areas of chir pine forests. Due to the acute shortage of local water resources, large tracts of agricultural land are left fallow. In addition, the water scarcity has caused conflicts between the people of Bidung and Bartsham, both of whom claim water rights to the Jhomori River.
There is serious concern that the environmental threats to the Gamri watershed are having adverse socioeconomic consequences on the region. Landslides cause considerable loss of natural pasture, rangeland, and agricultural fields, and the combination of flash floods and poor drainage systems have resulted in the loss of limited and valuable paddy and maize fields. This pressure on already limited resources has led to conflicts over forest and pasture resources. Finally, there is a challenge in the lack of diversified income-generating activities, as well as the increasing loss of culture and traditions of the Brokpas, the nomadic yak herders of the region.
Farmers of Thongrong planting Napier hedgerows, COMDEKS Bhutan
Key Environmental and Social Challenges
As indicated in the previous section, the major environmental, economic and social challenges in the three zones of the target landscape include:
- Over-grazing and land degradation due to a growing livestock population (relevant in Zones I, II and III).
- Deforestation due to tree felling for fodder, fuel wood and timber (relevant in Zones I, II and III).
- Competition over food resources of wild animals, mainly bamboo (used in roofing semi-permanent houses), which is a key food source for Red Panda (relevant for the lower part of Zone I)
- Frequent landslides, causing loss of rangeland, natural pasture and agriculture fields (relevant in Zones I, II and III).
- Flash floods, poor drainage systems and inadequate water management, resulting in loss of limited and valuable paddy and maize fields (relevant in Zones II and III, but more severe in Zone II).
- Forests fires during the dry (winter) season (relevant in Zone II and III).
- Farming on steep slopes with inadequate land management techniques, causing soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, and loss of productivity (relevant in Zones II and III, but more severe in Zone III).
- Degeneration of the unique traditional and cultural identity of the Brokpas due to rapid socioeconomic development and increased interaction with other communities (relevant in Zone I).
- Water scarcity and the drying up of water sources both for drinking and irrigation (particularly in Zone III).
- Human-wildlife conflict and destruction of crops by wild animals, causing significant economic harm to farmers (relevant in Zones II and III).
- Limited livelihood and income-generating opportunities (relevant in all zones).
- Narrow genetic base of agricultural crops, and loss of traditional crops and crop varieties (relevant in Zones II and III).
- Recurrent competition and conflict over forest and pasture resources (relevant in Zones I and Zone II).
- Low public awareness and lack of adequate education on environmental conservation and proper waste management (relevant in Zones I, II and III).
COMDEKS Activities, Achievements, and Impacts
Community Consultation and Baseline Assessment
To understand the current state of the landscape and to identify interventions to develop sound biodiversity management and sustainable livelihood activities, a landscape-wide Baseline Assessment using the COMDEKS resilience indicator set was conducted in August and September 2013. The assessment was organized and directed by the Centre for Climate Change and Spatial Information, a research unit of Sherubtse College in Kanglung.
Background information for the baseline assessment was provided by the Gamri Watershed Management Plan of 2009—a plan developed by the provincial government to address the environmental issues of the watershed. Although the plan was not implemented due to lack of resources, its data and analysis proved invaluable in understanding the characteristics and environmental problems of the Gamri target landscape, including major interventions required to address these problems.
The Baseline Assessment itself was carried out through a series of consultations with different stakeholders, as well as field visits throughout the entire landscape. During the meetings, resilience indicator scoring exercises, focus group discussions with key informants, and participatory resource appraisals were used to determine the state of the landscape and the issues faced by the community.
Field visits were conducted in Phongmey, Radhi, Bidung, Shongphu, Merak and Sakteng and consultations were held at the respective gewog centers, with participants including local leaders (Gups, Mangmis, Tshogpas), community members, and staff members of the agriculture, forestry, and livestock extension services of the provincial government. More than 285 individuals were consulted throughout the course of the Baseline Assessment to help prepare the landscape strategy document in a participatory manner.
Bamboo check dams for erosion control at Pemochojay Ropta, COMDEKS Bhutan
The overall objective of the Landscape Strategy for Bhutan is to:
- “Restore and manage the landscapes of the Gamri watershed for sustainable socioeconomic development, enhanced resilience of ecosystems and wellbeing of the local population through cyclic and sustainable use of natural resources; recognition of the value and importance of local traditions and cultures; and building the capacity of local institutions and communities.”
Table B-2 lists the four Landscape Outcomes around which the strategy is built to achieve its overall objective, as well as the performance indicators that will be used to measure these outcomes.
Table B-2. Landscape Outcomes and Indicators from the Bhutan Landscape Strategy
|Landscape Outcomes||Key Performance Indicators|
Degraded landscapes and ecosystems of the watershed are restored and sustainably managed for continued provision of ecosystem services.
Pressure on ecosystems, landscape and natural resources is reduced for enhanced sustainability and resilience.
Alternative livelihood and income-generation opportunities are enhanced.
Knowledge management and capacity of community and landscape-level institutions are strengthened to enhance landscape and community resilience.
Community-Led Landscape Projects
To guide the selection of local projects, the Landscape Strategy for the Gamri Watershed suggests a number of potential community-based activities to accomplish each Resilience Outcome:
Outcome 1: Degraded landscapes and ecosystems of the watershed are restored and sustainably managed for continued provision of ecosystem services:
- Restoration of degraded rangeland/natural pasture through replanting and development of vegetative buffers;
- Stabilization of landslide areas through sustainable land management practices and revegetation programs;
- Protection and sustainable management of water sources, including restoration of lakes and marshlands;
- Establishment of Community Forests (CF) and enhancing the effectiveness of existing CFs; and
- Conservation and sustainable use of traditional crops and crop varieties.
Outcome 2: Pressure on ecosystems, landscape and natural resources is reduced for enhanced sustainability and resilience:
- Reduction of livestock population through breed improvement and removal of low-productivity stock;
- Development of improved pasture and fodder tree replanting programs;
- Improvement of drainage systems and water management practices to protect crop lands and forests;
- Promotion of fuel-efficient heating and cooking stoves;
- Installation of alternative energy sources like solar energy, biogas, and microhydro;
- Promotion of sustainable land management practices on steeply sloped (over 50 degrees) agricultural fields;
- Adoption of measures to reduce human-wildlife conflict and crop depredations; and
- Adoption of measures to reduce the incidence of forest fires.
Outcome 3: Alternative livelihood and income-generation opportunities are enhanced:
- Product development and marketing of non-timber forest products;
- Establishment of private forests, orchards and organic vegetable production groups;
- Support for women’s groups pursuing local farm enterprises and handicrafts development; and
- Strengthening of the market chain for local products.
Outcome 4: Knowledge management and capacity of community and landscape-level institutions are strengthened to enhance landscape and community resilience:
- Documentation of traditional knowledge and practices associated with landscape and natural resource management, including preservation of local traditions and culture;
- Documentation and dissemination of best practices and lessons learned;
- Sharing of knowledge and lessons through exchange visits;
- Formation of Water User Associations and capacity development around water management; and
- Capacity building on development of improved pasture, sustainable land management (SLM) and community resources management.
Yabrang Village in the Gamri watershed, COMDEKS Bhutan
Community-Led Landscape Projects
Based on this guidance, eight local projects were selected as COMDEKS Bhutan’s portfolio of landscape interventions in the Gamri watershed (see Table B-3). Each is led by a different community-based organization and financed by a grant of approximately US$31,000 to US$48,000. Each project has been assigned an approximate timeline for implementation, and results are measured and reported on a regular basis by project representatives.
Table B-3. COMDEKS Community-Led Projects in the Gamri Watershed, Bhutan
|Project||Grantee(NGO/Civic Association)||Contribution to Landscape Resilience Outcomes||Description|
|Yenangla water catchment rehabilitation and forest fire management, Bartsham||Yenangla Water Catchment Protection Group
|Outcomes 1, 2, 4||Rehabilitates critical water sources and degraded land, while simultaneously building institutional capacities of farmers through workshops and training on sustainable practices. Protects seven community water sources, and implements sustainable land management practices in Ngatshang to mitigate erosion threatening Bartsham town. Protects agricultural lands by constructing causeways and retaining walls. Plants 4,000 trees to rehabilitate degraded lands.|
|Integrated landscape management at Yenangbrangsa||Yenangbrangsa Watershed Management Group
|Outcomes 1, 3, 4||Promotes sustainable watershed management as a deliberate means to protect the environment, reduce mass erosion and secure rural livelihoods of the communities on a more sustainable basis. Implements sustainable land management practices to increase agricultural productivity, and installs solar fencing to reduce human-wildlife conflict. In order to support alternative sources for income generation, the project supports women’s groups in the production and sale of cornflakes (a common maize snack food).|
|NTFP product development and sustainable management of Wangphu Choeling Community Forest, Yabrang, Phongmey gewog,||Wangphu Choeling Community Forest Group
|Outcomes 1, 2, 3, 4||Enhances income generation by reviving local organic turmeric production and establishing a turmeric marketing group. A portion of the income generated from turmeric sales will be used to fund sustainable management of the Wangphu Choeling Community Forest.|
|Increasing productivity and rural income through sustainable agriculture landscape management, Phongmey||Thongrong Sazhing Tshogpa
|Outcomes 1, 2, 4||Improves land productivity by enhancing manure production of cattle. This will be achieved by overcoming the current fodder shortage for cattle, promoting stall-feeding, and improving pasture fertilization. Brings agricultural land under sustainable management by establishing hedgerows and stone bunds. Forms mustard oil production groups and an oil expeller-pressing unit In order to create alternative sources of income. Reduces human-wildlife conflict and improves agricultural production through solar fencing of agricultural land.|
|Development and pilot testing of improved cooking and heating stoves||Tarayana Foundation
|Outcomes 2, 4||Demonstrates the benefits of fuel-efficient biomass stoves, including user convenience, versatility, cost-effectiveness, reduced maintenance, reduced fire hazards, reduced indoor smoke and improved energy security. Designs and pilot tests advanced biomass stoves for specialized uses such as cooking for large groups and precooking animal fodder. Documents the findings on efficiency and adoption of biomass stoves and shares these findings with stakeholders.|
|Agricultural landscape protection and management, Radhi, Tashigang||Sazhing Yuenten Tshogpa
|Outcomes 1, 2, 3||Improves livelihoods through crop diversification and healthy farming systems, reducing the pressure on natural resources. Protects over 150 ha of rice fields through establishment of causeways and conservation of local rice varieties. Restores heavily eroded land at Chuta Langnang and Dochepangthang and plants bamboo, Napier grass, fruit trees, and fodder trees in degraded areas throughout the project site. Establishes a community dairy group to support additional income generation.|
|Sustainable management of farmland and livelihood improvement through oilseed production and sale, Bidung||Saling Sazhing Zinchong Detshen
|Outcomes 1, 2, 3||Improves soil fertility and controls erosion through establishment of hedgerows along the contour lines of farmland, winter cropping and other sustainable land management practices. At the same time, conserves and protects water sources and catchment areas. Promotes oilseed production, extraction and marketing to improve livelihoods. Supplies three power tillers and paddy threshers to reduce drudgery and workload of women.|
|Protection of Sakteng Village from Land Erosion||Sakteng Sacha Zinchong Tshogpa
|Outcomes 2, 4||Protects Sakteng village from erosion, improves the safety of local people, and reduces the environmental impact from construction of log bridges. Facilitates the construction of 330 m of gabion walls at critical erosion sites, and protects grazing land and households in the village from river erosion and diversion, which threatens flooding of the village. Bridges to connect Sakteng village with Puesa as well as within Sakteng village contribute to inhabitants’ safety and productivity.|
Ex-Post Baseline Assessment in the Gamri watershed, COMDEKS Bhutan
Achievements and Impacts to Date
- Protecting water sources and establishing water user groups: Depleted spring water sources are a growing concern in the Gamri watershed. To address this, communities have been trained in spring-shed management, and have subsequently protected 52 water sources (15 through COMDEKS funding and 37 using regular SGP co-financing) that supply drinking water to some 20,000 Gamri residents. Initial protection has been accomplished through fencing and tree-planting around the springs, while long-term protection has been promoted through the formation of 27 water user groups throughout the watershed, each of which is governed by bylaws restricting the cutting of trees and overharvesting of resources near the water sources. The water user groups are also responsible for annual maintenance of the water sources. Securing water sources in this way will mitigate water conflicts in the area and improve access to water for drinking and irrigation.
- Promoting sustainable land management and rehabilitating degraded areas: Land degradation, which is increasingly common in the Gamri watershed, is one of the root causes of declining agricultural productivity in the region. To combat this, 78 ha of farmland in three communities were brought under sustainable land management by planting hedgerows and installing stone bunds to prevent erosion. In addition, a total of 6,500 trees, 300 bamboos, 15,000 Napier grass clumps, 300 fruit trees, and 250 fodder trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas throughout the watershed.
- Mitigating human-wildlife conflicts: The installation of solar fencing around 123 ha of crop lands in five communities has reduced crop losses from wildlife by approximately 80 percent and raised overall agricultural productivity. Before this project, wildlife damage—mostly from deer and boar—affected over 50 percent of crops and was a major threat to food security, farm income, and agricultural biodiversity.
- Protecting rice paddy and conserving local rice varieties: Through the construction of walls and causeways, 150 ha of valuable rice paddy in Zone II have been protected from flash floods, erosion, and landslides. This has not only increased rice production in the area by 15 percent, but has helped to safeguard and conserve the valuable local rice varieties Sung Sung and Sobrang, which are known for their aroma and taste, and command a premium price.
- Introducing alternative income opportunities: Alternative sources of income have been developed in several parts of the landscape. In Saling and Thongrong, 140 families now cultivate mustard and process mustard oil for local use and outside sales. The oil is processed through a newly formed producer group using jointly owned expeller presses. Similarly, some 130 families in Yabrang now cultivate turmeric for the production of powdered turmeric. Production of cornflakes—commonly used as food for religious offerings and snacks—has also been promoted, and a dairy producers group has been established. To ensure gender equality at all times, these livelihood efforts have emphasized participation of women during the planning process.
- Documenting traditional knowledge: Local traditional knowledge and practices associated with landscape and natural resource management have been an important influence in most of the COMDEKS projects. This knowledge has been recorded and embedded in local by-laws, particularly concerning the tree and plant species to use for reforestation and revegetation efforts. A short documentary has also been produced capturing the rich culture and traditions of Sakteng village.
- Upgrading shelter and heat sources for herders: Shelter and living conditions of 95 herders have been improved through the supply of modern building materials and the provision of improved heating and cooking stoves. This has drastically reduced herders’ dependence on bamboo for shelter construction and reduced their fuel wood use significantly.
- Installing protective structures to prevent village and farmland damage: Over 330 m of gabion wall now protect Sakteng village and its farmlands and pastures from river erosion and diversion, which has damaged village structures and destroyed agricultural fields in the past. In addition, the construction of three semi-permanent bridges has improved safety and ease of passage of community members across the river.
Progress at the Landscape Level
While it is early in the life of the Gamri Watershed Landscape Strategy, there is evidence that a strong working relationship among the CBOs leading local projects and the representatives of local government and District technical staff is developing. The government agencies have been very supportive of the COMDEKS Programme and its goals and Landscape Strategy, and have provided full administrative and technical support to the different community-led projects. The strength of this support will undoubtedly aid in fostering the gradual formation of a landscape community in which local communities and government share a similar commitment to sustainable landscape governance. As a first step in this direction, a total of four landscape-wide meetings attended by all project leaders and local and District government representatives have been held so far to share experiences and lessons learned.
- Increasing livestock populations and degradation of rangelands is a root cause of many of the environmental problems in the Gamri watershed. Grazing lands are overexploited, in most cases without rest periods for regeneration. Consequently, almost all grazing land experiences landslides, gully formation, encroachment of non-palatable vegetation. While the sustainable land management work in the watershed is helping to mitigate some of the land degradation, there is still an urgent need to initiate a breed improvement program to reduce the cattle population and improve grazing resources.
- Another major cause of the erosion of agricultural land is the poor drainage system associated with farm roads. Investment to upgrade this drainage system will be necessary to protect valuable farmland and the health of the surrounding environment.
- Drying up of water sources, both for drinking and irrigation, is a growing concern of the landscape and country at large. COMDEKS projects have been instrumental in protecting water sources in the Gamri watershed, but there is need to conduct a detailed study on the topography of various community drinking and irrigation water sources, in order to understand recharge behavior, and to provide baseline information for a large-scale spring water rehabilitation program.
- COMDEKS projects have supported access to improved heating and cook stoves to reduce heavy dependence on fuel wood and reduce CO2 Reliance on fuel wood for heating, brewing of local alcohol, fodder cooking, and cooking for public festivals and other large social functions remains very high. Thus, there is still a considerable need for further research and improvement of cook stoves.
- During the first year after the planting of hedgerows in the land management sites, stray cattle have been a problem, since they feed on the hedgerow grass slips. Group by-laws that have been developed and implemented at various project sites to control stray cattle have shown promise in addressing this problem.
- Low literacy rates of CBOs are a challenge in project implementation, report writing and knowledge sharing. To overcome this difficulty, GEF-SGP/COMDEKS and CBOs developed a productive partnership with local agriculture, livestock, and forest extension personnel in which extension staff have helped local CBOs to draft project proposals, and carry out competent record-keeping and reporting.
- There is a limited number of NGOs and CBOs in the target landscape, restricting the pool of local groups that can undertake landscape projects. Consequently, there is a continuing need to promote community-based groups and further strengthen their capacities.