© Helvetas

Protecting and Sustainably Using Forests

© Helvetas

Helvetas helps the rural population take responsibility for the sustainable management of forests, including the tending of young stands of trees. We have assisted in developing the legal basis for community forestry in Bhutan.

  • Project Name
    Community Forestry
  • Project Phase
    2017 to 2018
  • Funding
    This project is funded by donations.
  • Thematic focus
    Environment and Climate Change
    Gender and Social Equity

Green riches

In few countries are forests as important as in Bhutan. They cover 71% of the country. They store water, protect rural communities and provide them with a wealth of vital resources. Helvetas has been working for twenty years in Bhutan – for much of that time on mandates of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) – to enable the population to take responsibility for managing the country’s vast forests. Local residents now protect and tend these rich resources according to a forest management plan. They look after young stands of trees and utilize the available resources, such as timber, bamboo, medicinal herbs and mushrooms. They make sure no one overuses the state-owned forest and that everyone gets their fair share of the profits on timber sales and the firewood for their own use.

Helvetas has assisted since the outset in drawing up Bhutan’s forest policy, in the participatory management of its forests and in drafting its forestry law. Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of groups have formed up to utilize the forest for the general welfare. One third of all rural households in Bhutan belong to a single forest management group. In 2017 these groups managed nearly 800 square kilometers (80,000 hectares) of forest, an area roughly equivalent to half the size of London. Development specialists and experts at Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests agree: the groups formed to use forests collectively are the broadest and most important social movement in the country. So now that the country’s basic forest policy is on track, we can shift our focus from one of our most successful programs to the next phase of related objectives.

© Helvetas
Forest covers over 70 percent of the land area of Bhutan. It is to be protected and used sustainably. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
The village communities learn how to cherish and care for the forest and which trees they are allowed to fell. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
In the forest, not only wood can be used. The families can also find animal feed and litter for the animals or mushrooms and herbs. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
The forest belongs to the state, the forest user groups maintain and use it sustainably. The collective may sell part of the wood. © Helvetas
© Helvetas / Markus Wild
The wood is used by local small businesses to make beams for the construction of houses. © Helvetas / Markus Wild

Consolidate, Capitalize, Communicate: the three C’s sum up our new challenges in Bhutan:

Consolidating means tying this successful community forestry approach into government programs even in places where its importance is still underestimated. Consolidating also means giving added support where the work of forest user groups can be improved, e.g. by increasing women’s participation as well as fostering inter-group cooperation.

Capitalizing means summing up what we have learned from many years’ involvement here and making this know-how available to others who have not been involved in the Helvetas project so far.

Lastly, communicating means presenting and putting across that knowledge effectively and comprehensibly. On a web site with readily understandable explanations and topical video clips, for example. So as to make the sustainable forestry as much a matter of course throughout Bhutan as passable roads or clean water.

© Helvetas/Singye Wangchuk
«The forest and the environment are much better protected now that people manage the forest themselves.»

Dorji, Hungrel Block forester, Bhutan

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