The target landscape selected as the focus of COMDEKS activities in Bhutan is the Gamri Watershed in Tashigang. Located in the eastern region of Bhutan, the watershed spreads across eight administrative blocks known as “gewogs” across the Tashigang Dzongkhag province: Sakteng, Merak, Phongmey, Shongphu, Bidung, Bartsham, and Samkhar. Increasing environmental pressure on the watershed due to overgrazing, deforestation, and the extraction of natural resources has led to desiccation of water resources, landslides, soil erosion, loss of agricultural fields, flash floods, and conflicts between humans and wildlife. Socially, the region faces problems surrounding inadequate social infrastructure, a lack of alternative livelihood opportunities, rural to urban migration, and a loss of tradition and culture.
The watershed covers diverse climate and ecosystems ranging from alpine, temperate to broadleaf forests. Land use types of the watershed consists of 69.3% forests, 15% natural pasture, 13.9% agricultural land and remaining 1.63% formed of water body, rock outcrops, settlements and eroded areas. In addition, the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) which has a total area of 740.60 km2 intersects the watershed and covers almost three fourth of Merak and Sakteng gewogs. The SWS is home to 35 species of Rhododendrons, forest which contains about 203 plant species including herbs, shrubs, and small trees, and many globally threatened and endangered animal species including the red panda, Himalayan serow, wild dog, goral, common leopard, capped langur, Himalayan black bear, musk deer and jungle cat. Pressure on the land caused by overgrazing and deforestation has had adverse environmental consequences on the watershed leading to frequent landslides, flashfloods, and forest fire. Steep agriculture fields with no proper land management result in soil erosion, loss of fertility and productivity. Furthermore, there is increased competition over limited resources between humans and the animal population, as well as conflict between farmers and animals over the destruction of crops. Finally, the desiccation of water sources is becoming an increasingly serious problem.
The target landscape area is separated into three distinct zones that encompass the variety within the Gamri Watershed landscape. Zone I includes the two gewogs of Merak and Sakteng, and is inhabited by about 3,693people. The socio-economy of the Zone I depends primarily on cattle and yak rearing, which contributes to over 83% of the household income. Zone II encompasses the Radhi and Phongmey gewogs, and has a population of about 5,730. Zone III contains the remaining four gewogs of Bidung, Samkhar, Shongphu and Bartsham, and has a population of 6,878. The main economic activity of both Zone II and Zone III is primarily focused on agriculture and livestock husbandry. There is serious concern that the environmental threat to the Gamri Watershed is having adverse socioeconomic consequences on the region. The landslides cause huge loss of natural pasture, rangeland, and agricultural fields, and the combination of flash floods and poor drainage have resulted in the loss of limited and valuable paddy and maize fields. This pressure on already limited resources has led to conflict over forest and pasture resources. Finally, there is a challenge of the lack of diversified income generating activities, as well as a social trend of loss of culture and traditions of the Brokpas, the nomadic yak herders of the region.
A baseline assessment was undertaken in order to understand the current state of the landscape and to identify potential interventions towards developing sustainable livelihood activities in the context of sound biodiversity management. The assessment was carried out through a series of consultation meetings with local community leaders, as well as field visits throughout the region. During the meetings, scoring exercises, focus group discussions, and participatory resource appraisals were employed to clearly recognize the state of landscape and issues faced by the population. A final workshop, attended by 65 participants representing all key communities in the watershed, was held in Rangjung on September 29th 2013. The results from the baseline assessment of the Gamri watershed varied between the three zones, however, the main concerns were consequences of overgrazing by livestock and deforestation, including increasing landslides and flash floods. Additionally, problems were identified water scarcity and conflicts between humans and animals over limited natural resources.
The overall long term objective of the COMDEKS Landscape Strategy is to restore and manage the landscapes of the Gamri Watershed for sustainable socio-economic development, enhanced resilience of ecosystems through cyclic use of natural resources, maintenance of biological diversity and well-being of the local population. This strategy has been broken down into the following four objectives:
a) Promote restoration and sustainable management of different ecosystems and landscapes.
b) Reduce pressures on ecosystems, landscapes, and natural resources
c) Enhance alternative livelihood and income generation opportunities
d) Strengthen knowledge management and capacity of stakeholders in natural resources management
The COMDEKS project seeks to bring about community development, learning, and knowledge sharing by making small grants available to community organizations to help them maintain more resilient socio-ecological production landscapes. The types of community projects that will be supported by the COMDEKS Gamdri Watershed initiative include the restoration of degraded pasture through the development of buffer and plantations, stabilization of landslide areas through sustainable land management and plantations, restoration of lakes and marshlands, the establishment and strengthening of community forests, the improvement of drainage systems and water management, and projects revolving around reduction of unproductive livestock and the promotion of better breeding practices. Additionally, other types of projects might include promotion of alternative energy sources, the promotion of private forest, orchard, and vegetable production, strengthening of the market chain, supporting women based agro enterprises and handicrafts, documentation of traditional knowledge and practices (including the preservation of local tradition and culture), and capacity development on water management and on improved pasture and community resource management.
To learn more, please download the COMDEKS Country Programme Landscape Strategy for Bhutan here.
Mr. Singay Dorji
Phone:+ 975 2 321252/322424
Fax:+ 975 2 326147/322657
Ms. Tshering Zam
UNDP G.P.O. Box 162 , Thimphu