The transboundary Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL) in the eastern Himalaya is shared by Bhutan, India and Nepal. Yak herding culture and economy have connected this landscape for centuries. However low returns associated with lack of socio-economic development besides issues around climate change is leading to gradual decline in yak farming across the landscape.
ICIMOD through its Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) initiated policy dialogue for the KL member countries for collective action in addressing these common challenges faced by the yak herders. In order to strengthen such regional cooperation on yak value chains, stakeholders from KL Nepal and India were on a field visit to Bhutan from March 30 to April 6.
Welcoming the delegations, Dasho Rinzin Dorji, the Agriculture Secretary and also member of ICIMOD Board of Governors stated “Yak farming is common heritage of our KL and all there countries should join hands to address the challenges”. Dasho appreciated the coordination role of ICIMOD and committed his support for establishing a “Yak Network among stakeholders of KL” which can later lead to Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH Yak Network) and gradually steer towards a “Global Yak Network”. Ms. Kesang Dema, Coordinator of KL Bhutan from Nature Conservation Division provided an overview of Forest Management in Bhutan with focus on Integrated Conservation and Development Programme. The constitutional requirement of maintaining 60% of the country under forest cover and remain carbon neutral for all times to come is a big commitment, she said. Innovative financing mechanisms such as “Bhutan for Life” are some approaches that Bhutan would pursue for sustaining conservation efforts, she shared.
Mr. Towchu Rabgay, the Officiating Director General, Department of Livestock (DoL) updated the visiting team with latest status of yak farming in Bhutan. He shared that there is increasing recognition of the role and significance of yak not only for livelihoods but also for environmental conservation, preservation of yak culture and national security. Thus for Bhutan, yak as part of highland development is being given due importance as flagship programme for multi-sector engagement in its 12th five year plan. He also stated that transboundary cooperation is critical among the three KL member countries to enhance yak value chain development and that the DoL remains committed to provide any necessary support in this regard.
Representing the Nepal delegation, Mr. SanchaKerung, Chairperson, Phalelung Rural Municipality, Panchthar District, Nepal noted efforts made by the Royal Government of Bhutan in support of the yak farming communities. He said that the trip was valuable to get an insight into focused strategies for yak development including the urgent need for transboundry cooperation. Dr. Nabin Ghimire, from Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Government of Nepal highlighted that the geo-political situations in the region has put restriction in the traditional transborder movement of livestock that is leading to inbreeding and reduced productivity. As such, there is great need for the countries, particularly in the HKH to come together for finding common solutions, he said. He strongly recommended developing mechanisms and implementing Animal Germplasm Exchange such as yak bull exchange programme among the three KL member countries for better productivity.
Mr. Dorjee Kesang Bhutia, a well-known yak herder from Lachung valley of North Sikkim narrated about the historical close community bonding between the yak herders of North Sikkim and Haa. He said that language, food culture, spiritual beliefs and practices are still same and that we must build on these commonalities to strengthen regional cooperation. Dr. Karma Bhutia, the Additional Director, Animal Husbandry, Livestock, Fisheries & Veterinary Science Department, Gangtok, Government of Sikkim expressed his gratitude to KL Bhutan and ICIMOD for facilitating the cross-visits that is deepening people to people connect. He said that the “piponsystem” is a unique traditional local governance system in North Sikkim that provides excellent institution for linking with the yak associations of Nepal and Bhutan for regional yak network. Such networks must engage instrengthening cooperation through events such as celebrating transboundary yak festivals and promoting exchange of knowledge and experiences, he said.
Submitted by Towchu Rabgay, DoL with photo by Choidup Zangpo, ICTD
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