The Sustainability of Bhutan – a Journal Conversation
Date June 24 2017
The Conversation on the “Sustainability of Bhutan” (Druk Journal 5) was attended by 47 participants in Thimphu. Representing the government, private sector, civil society, political parties, and international agencies, the two-and-a–half hour Conversation raised a number of questions and comments on sustainability in both the Bhutanese and international context.
* Sustainability has been debated in public domain and parliament.
* Bhutan has been very cautious – public expenditure should not result in an unsustainable situation. In the current 11 FYP there have been pressures from politicians advocating that the Nu.100 billion is inadequate. Recurrent expenditure has been shooting up. Government has been appealing to political parties to stay within the fiscal limitations.
* Sustainability is a growing catchphrase globally, most recently promoted by the UN’s 2030 goal of the SDGs, 17 inspirational goals that 193 countries have agreed to achieve in 16 years – 2015 to 2030.
* SDG momentum is picking up, coming at an important time for Bhutan as we formulate the 12th FYP. 143 goals/targets are relevant to Bhutan. 134 already aligned. Bhutan has voluntarily promised to review achievements of SDGs.
* The government of Bhutan has decided to focus on three of the SDG goals: SDG 1 (no poverty), 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land) as immediate goals to be showcased. The government has also aligned the SDGs and the country’s 11th and 12th Plan targets. However, this is just the beginning of a process that will be as complex as it is ambitious.
* The SDGs is not a philosophy. Its 17 goals, 169 targets, 132 ways are indicators and measures. If civil society, private sector, women’s groups, governments don’t take it seriously it will be a waste of time.
* The MDGs reinforced so many political legacies. With the SDGs, there’s no us and them. They apply to all countries – rich or poor, colonized or not. We have to go down and look at who’s the poorest? What attention do they need? This is about what our people deserve… “do I have the rights and freedoms and opportunities to live the life I want?”
* GNH and the SDGs. What is critical to keep in mind is that this not a competition – one does not replace another. Definitely learn from one another.
* Government’s priority is the 12 FYP. All sections of society, including private sector and CSOs to agree on the 12 FYP, work towards achieving this … and build a momentum for the next 10 – 15 years.
* Climate change. Agriculture involved in providing strategic plan… now with NEC. Connectivity impacting our land and biodiversity, weather patterns, crops damage. It’s a problem in many countries but we must know our culture so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
* Local action needed. Local perception that we can’t do anything. Need international support. Local watershed – 80% that’s flowing into our rivers.
* How would we as a country, being carbon negative, make other countries accountable?
* Image of the earth from the moon. Blue planet going around the sun. Everybody in the world needs the same image. An interconnected system… integrated systems. Fresh water for the world is one of the systems being disturbed by climate change. We talked a lot and we’re still changing.
* 70 percent of the population are farmed based people. Their interests and well being should be taken into consideration. Good storage facilities connecting are being developed, important for sustainability.
* Food security is a major concern for all of us. Individuals can invest. “I can make my own product.”
* The food business and farming in Bhutan. There is a gap. There is a huge opportunity in the farming system. Farming is seen as a poor sector. Think of the economy of the future – farming does not play a central role there.
* International buyers. See the opportunities there. What’s happening on the ground is not echoing this opportunity. What are the politicians doing? What’s the private sector doing? They can play a much bigger role in development.
* Sense of urgency. Existing farming community – the uniqueness – it will be difficult to revive that.
* Wind damaged maize crops in the eastern side. Through research, adapt to changing environment. For example, millet is a minor crop and neglected. But it does well under stress conditions. Millet is nutritious, disease resistent. We need to move forward.
* We are falling prey to global paradigms that are predicated on promoting consumption and production. Failure to imagine something different. The challenge is how to imagine something different. Can our youth and parents imagine something different, consider how to take our farming ahead?
* Media are driven by commercialism – that drives consumption.
* Initiatives needed in Bhutan… clean and pick up garbage, mostly plastic bottles. Common picture today as we go on walks are bins overflowing with bottles, plastic wrappers. Our shops are full of candy, packaged goods, our own college canteens sell more imported food than local produce.
* We suggest policy change on import of food, especially junk food, packaged food. Opening up to global trading. We have started bottling our own drupchus. While this may have reduced import of bottled water, we ought to still get into the habit of carrying our own drinking water with us.
* Stop small packaging. Educate our children to be more conscious of the planet and what we eat and drink. Interdependent solutions and action. Health has to work with Economic Affairs, with Youth and Education sectors, with the private sector and CSOs.
* Can we consider policy that will shift the paradigms such as making imported packaged goods more costly? Shared the example of Sikkim, India, banning small packaged goods.
* Impose a green tax for people flying into Bhutan.
* People were interconnected and dependent on each other. Consumption replaces human connection. “I have to have my own car”.
* Fundamental problem ignored in all these grand discussions… all in a bubble. There are 141,000 youth between 15 and 24 years. Growing unemployment is enormous. Does more damage than having pet bottles around. Sustainability of society. If youth unemployment continues in the direction that it is going, the society of Bhutan is in very, very grave danger. Don’t see it as being sustainable for more than 20 years. There’ll be no Bhutanese society to worry about in 100 years.
* Sustainabilty? What’s at the heart of our society? At the heart is people. How can we make people understand sustainability. What affects them? Is the culture around them sustainable? Do they have sustainable mindset in our hearts?
* Sustainability of society – is bedrock of society is shattered, forget everything else. Sustainability of society… culture is disappearing. But political parties worry that trying to reduce consumerism may throw them out of power.
* Education system has to reorient itself. What Bhutan needs, rather than all the time talking about the world, focus in on the people of Bhutan.
* Electricity. Are we relying on one sector – putting us at a disadvantage? What our Economic minister said about economic debt is dangerous, that hydropower is the only egg that Bhutan has… we have “no other eggs”.
* We have no sense of community. There are many actors, but if we all think about being voted into power… Be sensitive to local situation.
* We always think about replacement. Crops are replaced, diversification replaced, and more mono cropping. We don’t value existing local wisdom.
* What’s happening in the field in the name of yield and income? Income is important but not if its too much leaning towards income generation. Replacement of crops and animals in the field. Turning farms into pasture land. Aggressive promotion of livestock for quick return.
* Recognise the small emerging issues that we ignore. For example, plantation of cardamom. Serious problem in turning farmland into grasslands.
* There were examples of recyclable bags being made in Bhutan before plastics came.
* We are sending people out to work, but what can we do internally?
* Fortunate to have had support from many countries but, in the process, are we learning to become more independent?
* Parking problems. Look for solutions like parking further away and walking.
* Invest in giving education loans to youth is investing in development of their mentality. Make children able to choose their careers. Have a clear understanding of what they want to do.
* Does our education teach actionable programmes and creative thinking, sustainable thinking? Do they have compassion in their hearts?
* All of us can do something… as an individual… be it in your own home or family.
* Buddhism & philosophy. Buddhism and science. Bhutan is so rich but statements not enough. Knowledge is so rich but its behind mountains. Happiness is a skill… failing in delivery. Sometimes some things we should not touch or remove. We can build the mindset… we have to tell our children the values.
* International opinion has to be noted. But one has to be cautious.
* Samdrup Jongkhar example of how youth can play an important role. In 43 days, 20 youth lived in a village. The project brought alcoholism down by 50%. Now challenging the youth, are you going to go back?
* Misperception among most people in rural villages in Zhemgang that its “No use educating our girls. They don’t get jobs.” We’ve come a long way but we have not achieved gender equality in Bhutan.
* More girls in primary and high schools. Fewer women in colleges. Women unemployment is higher than that of men. Work of caregivers and housewives not accounted for.
* Sustainable women empowerment? Two women gups, two women dzongdas. In recent LG elections, most didn’t get elected. Need to change the outlook of women and girls especially in rural areas. Talking about why the need to educate women and girls… not just as rights but why it’s important to have women leaders.
* Political parties should have more commitment to have a fair representation of women. It has become a need to have a temporary measure like quota in Bhutan.
* Gender. In project sites… sexual harassment, abortions, STIs. Not just talking and thinking, but acting is very important.
* Health. The alcohol revenue is Nu. 1 billion. What government is paying for treatment is Nu. 5 billion.
* Change is important but at the right pace. Cannot equate ourselves with what’s happened in developed countries.