In May of 2016, a Copenhagen based freelance multimedia journalist named James Clasper authored an article titled “The nutty solution to Bhutan’s deforestation problem”. This article dwells on Bhutan’s only large-scale horticulture venture, started by Mountain Hazelnut, some ten years back.
The hazelnut project is currently marred in controversy. The pollination problem that the project has encountered and the contemplated solution to solving this problem, is causing some serious concerns. In the process, a host of issues are coming to the fore - some perceived, some real. I fear that this issue is unlikely to die down quietly anytime soon - but I am not going to pass a judgment on it, not yet.
Through this post I wish to point out that it is not correct that hazelnut plantation was introduced into the country because Bhutan faced the problem of deforestation. On the contrary, the overarching consideration in allowing this project was that plantations would take place on degraded and barren lands.
Deforestation is not a problem in Bhutan, far from it. On the contrary, one of the very few thinking Bhutanese whom I respect hugely is of the view that Bhutan is over-forested! I completely agree. The economic loss as a consequence and the environmental disaster that this situation could cause needs to be examined carefully - and remedial actions taken to mitigate the fallout from our tendency to be irrationally obstinate about what constitutes environmental conservation. I fear that we Bhutanese have very poor understanding of what conservation is all about.
Our antiquated wildlife conservation acts and rules have already caused a catastrophe that has come to be known as Goongtong. Goongtong is a disaster for the country - but now I fear that this problem is all set to usher in an even more devastating tragedy.
Slowly but surely Goongtong is legitimizing the plantation of cash crops such as cardamoms and hazelnuts, in prime agriculture land. The argument being put foreword is that there are no young and energetic farm hands to do agriculture work anyway – thus if planting these cash crops can bring in some income, however meager, it is still useful.
The question that begs asking is: is agriculture and farming doomed in the land of GNH?