Biodiversity in Bhutan
Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas, which has been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot and listed among the 234 globally outstanding eco-regions by the World Wildlife Fund. With its six major agroecological zones, the country is endowed with a vast forest cover, which is relatively well-preserved and comprises more than 70 percent of its total land area. Bhutan is particularly rich in bird and crop diversity; about 100 species of crops are known to occur in the country, including cereals such as rice, maize, barley, millet, wheat and buckwheat; fruits such as apple, orange and pear; vegetables such as potato, bean and cabbage; and other crops such as chili, cardamom, garlic and ginger.
Bhutan’s rich biodiversity is however under threat from land use conversion, overexploitation, industrialization, forest fires, infrastructure development as well as population increase, unsustainable cropping practices, and pollution, which are compounded by the pressures of climate change.
Nagoya Protocol and ABS implementation
The Royal Government of Bhutan is a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol and has been making efforts to conserve its biological resources through the Biodiversity Act 2003. Efforts are being made to establish a policy and regulatory framework for the implementation of Access to genetic resources and Benefit-Sharing (ABS), but progress has been slow due to the limited understanding of ABS by the relevant stakeholders.
The Constitution of the Kingdom mandates the maintenance of a minimum forest cover of 60 percent for perpetuity. The National Gene Bank offers an ex-situ conservation facility for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, which holds 2714 accessions of native cereals, legumes, oil seeds, vegetables and crop wild relatives, and over 11000 doses of semen from local cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep breeds for research and long-term use. A national biosafety framework was established in 2006 in response to the need for a framework for the safe transfer, handling and use of modern biotechnology products. A bioprospecting programme was initiated in 2009 but has progressed slowly due to the lack of human, technical, financial and infrastructural capacity in the country.
Current UNDP-GEF ABS Project activities
The UNDP-GEF ABS project was launched in Bhutan in January 2014 to support the development and implementation of a national ABS framework, build national capacities and facilitate biodiscovery of genetic resources and traditional knowledge.
The project focuses on three synergistic outcomes. First, to develop an operational national regulatory and institutional framework on ABS. Second, to strengthen stakeholder capacity and increase awareness for the implementation of the national ABS framework. Third, to demonstrate best practices in ABS recognizing the principles of biodiversity conservation, Prior Informed Consent and Mutually Agreed Terms including a fair and equitable sharing of benefits through ABS agreements.
Implementation is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Centre in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the Menjong Sorig Pharmaceutical Corp. Ltd in the Ministry of Health, and Bio-Bhutan, a private enterprise based in Thimphu.
The project is helping to develop innovative products and schemes to strengthen ties between the people and the environment and empower rural communities to believe in and benefit from sustainable biodiversity conservation.