Helping Bhutan to stay carbon negative
Climate change is no respecter of national boundaries. Although Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country on the planet, it nevertheless faces climate change impacts including erratic and unpredictable weather patterns, and natural disasters such as floods, landslides, glacial lake outbursts.
Changing monsoon patterns and rising temperatures have led to a shorter rainy season and longer periods of drought - a disaster for Bhutan’s largely rural population who rely on farming both for income and to feed themselves. At the same time, demand for water from urban centres is going up every year. The GCCA+, in close partnership with the government and the Council for Renewable Natural Resources Research of Bhutan, is investing EUR4.4 million in a number of projects aimed at making farmers more adaptable and resilient to climate change and its impacts.
“The installation of the water pump was not only a blessing to the whole village but it has inspired our family and generations to come to overcome the scarcity of water,” says farmer Dechen Dorji from Mongar, in eastern Bhutan, as he shows off his new irrigation system. “When I was a child, one member of the family always had to fetch water on a full time basis. The new water pipe has been an immense help to irrigate our fields effectively and deal with the problems of the past, such as an inadequate supply and loss of water at the source.”
In the past, irrigation was mainly via, old fashioned, open canals which are highly inefficient because of the high rates of evaporation and seepage. But all that has changed for rice farmer Rinchen Zangmo. “In the past, we had a real water shortage, but a new pump has solved our problems,” he says. “Under a new land management campaign I have been given some new paddy fields, with proper irrigation facilities for growing rice. It’s the main source of income and food for my family.”
Water shortages are not the only climate-related challenge to Bhutan. In this mountainous, land-locked country, nearly a third of all arable land clings precariously to the steep slopes. Erosion is a constant worry - every year, 29 tons of fertile topsoil is washed away, causing further sediment problems in the rivers cutting through the steep valleys. Elsewhere, the heavy use of chemical fertilisers contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and pollute the mountain streams.
The GCCA+ is supporting the promotion of organic farming both to reduce harmful emissions and encourage carbon sequestration in the soil, thus improving its quality. “I’ve been able to increase my vegetable production drastically without using imported fertilizers,” says market gardener Arum Sangay from the southern district of Pemagatshel near the border with India. “Through the GCCA-funds we have benefitted from a supply of seeds, new greenhouses and modern irrigation facilities. I’m growing more vegetables, which means more sustainable farming which means more income for my family.”
Globally, livestock farming is well understood to be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Bhutan is playing its part to reduce its impact through the green livestock farming project, which includes installing biogas plants and bio digesters. Farmers have also been taught how to grow winter fodder and look after their pastures better.
“We have had a farmers’ group to grow fodder grass since 2014. The initiative has helped us solve the long-term poor quality and lack of food for our cattle,” says Pema Dorji, a member of the Farmers Fodder Group in Zhemgang.
Karma Sershong from Mongar explains how the project has revolutionised his life: “The biogas plant has not only reduced my daily working hours by half but it has given me more time to do other work and have a social life! It’s also the main source of energy for my family.”
Bhutan’s development is highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, livestock rearing and hydro-electric power and forestry. The GCCA+ is contributing to local climate actions to ensure the country can prosper, whilst remaining carbon negative.