Decreasing black-necked cranes concern villagers

loss of wetland to development activities seen as a main cause
BNC: Declining numbers of Black-necked crane (BNC) arriving in Chumey and Tang in Bumthang, and Menbi and Dungkar in Lhuentse is concerning the communities that are used to seeing the birds in their fields. The issue was raised during a sensitization meeting on BNC in these communities conducted by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) recently.
This year only two cranes arrived in Tang. “The number of crane arrivals is declining again,” Soenam from Gamling said, worried if the cranes would return next year. Last year four birds came. The community is worried because BNC is revered as heavenly and auspicious. Its arrival evokes joy and happiness for the cranes’ visit is believed to harbinger bountiful harvests in the villages in the following year. “When the cranes aren’t around it feels empty as if something is missing,” Soenam said.
An elderly man, Jambay from Gyetsa recalled how as a child he enjoyed watching the cranes dance while herding cattle. “Even here the number of cranes is declining now from over 20-30 I saw as a child,” Jambay said. This year the number of cranes in Gyetsa dropped to 16 from 22 from the last winter.
In Thangbi only two cranes arrived from minimum of nine before. As per data from RSPN, except for an increase in arrival Phobjikha, BNC arrival is declining in wintering grounds such as Khotakha, Bumdeling and Bumthang.
Loss of wetland, the bird’s feeding and roosting grounds, to developmental activities is the leading cause for decreasing number of cranes. For instance, the cranes are no longer sighted in Bajo after the wetland was turned into a town. “The depletion in Tangmachu is attributed to diversion of water from wetland by some people,” RSPN programme coordinator, Tshering Phuntsho said, adding the place also lacks proper roosting grounds.
Earlier a research by UWICE researcher, Rinchen Namgay on habitat usage in Bumthang, found majority of sites where cranes visited for roosting and feeding were encroached by human settlement and institutional infrastructures. “In Chumey, the wetland, where the technical training institute now stands used to be one of the roosting sites,” the study stated. “The cranes left the site since the onset of the institute’s construction.”
Increasing area of agriculture land left fallow is also reducing feeding ground, which adversely affects the turn over, according to the research. In Tang, the decline was attributed to a major flood in 2007. “This year the number has decreased possibly from loss of roosting grounds from floods last summer,” Kizom tshogpa, Lekila said.
The crane arrival in Bumdeling also declined almost by half after floods in 1994 and 2004, which destroyed acres of paddy fields. Attacks from stray dogs, overhead transmission conductors, use of chemicals fertilizers and pesticides, increasing amount of waste are other pressing issues in these winter habitats. “Dog sterilization needs to be carried out urgently to reduce deaths from canine attacks,” Gyetsa tshogpa, Chundu Tshering said, adding transmission conductors also needs to be made safer for the cranes since cranes are flying into it.
According to RSPN, while ensuring complete safety to the cranes is quite impossible, effects to its roosting and feeding grounds from human activities could be reduced. “Villagers must stick to organic farming to minimize harmful effects from chemical fertilizers and pesticides to cranes,” Tshering Phuntsho said. “Conversion of wetland to dry land must be reduced besides avoiding barbed wire fence.”
The villagers, however, called for stringent rules to protect wetlands for safeguarding BNC’s roosting and feeding grounds from encroachments. “BNC conservation would need long-term sustainable plan without compromising livelihood,” Soenam said.
Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang

Full adult literacy by 2020 achievable: MoE

Education: The Ministry of Education (MoE) is readying for the 2020 target of achieving 100 percent adult literacy rate by strengthening the Non-Formal and Continuing Education Division (NFCED) programme.
It is doable, said director general of Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE), Tshewang Tandin. “But we will have to achieve the 2017 target first.” MoE has some way to go to take the current 55.3 percent adult literacy rate to 70 percent by the end of 2017. Adult literacy baseline will be out in May.
Tshewang Tandin said that in order to achieve the 2017 target, DAHE will require rationalization of non-formal education centres. The department will also have to strengthen advocacy and awareness programmes to enhance enrolment. DAHE will develop appropriate need-based curriculum materials by incorporating Gross National Happiness (GNH) values and principles. “Our aim is to catch more people who have not gone to the school,” Tshewang Tandin said. “There are many who have not attended school.”
DAHE’s report on implementation status of NFE outlines strategies to strengthen NFCED programmes. The department will carry out literacy mapping in dzongkhags and thromdes to ascertain the number of illiterate population and institute a strategic planning to ensure equitable access to NFCED services.
Among the many strategies, the department will explore and strengthen collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders. A strategic need-based capacity-building programme for NFE instructors, including online trainings, will be carried out, and institute a system of regular monitoring and evaluation for NFE programmes at all levels. The report says that initiatives will be launched to promote life skills and life-long learning and to enhance vocational and rural development skills so that beneficiaries can generate income.
NFCED currently has three programmes – NFE programme, Continuing Education (CE) programme, and Community Learning Centre (CLC) programme. NFCED programmes has benefited approximately to 174,000 learners so far. There are 682 NFE instructors in the country – 211 male and 471 female. Monks have also been recruited as instructors. There are 13 CLCs and 14 CE centres with 1,386 learners in the country today.
Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing

Separating bar and other businesses to control alcohol

Rule to be reinforced and strictly with the new policy on alcohol
Policy: There will be no “Shop cum Bar” while groceries will not be allowed to sell alcohol soon.
The Department of Industry will soon come hard on separating bars run jointly with other businesses.
The recently endorsed National Policy and Strategic Framework to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol (2015-2020) directs the economic affairs ministry to enforce separation of bars from other businesses including grocery shops except in hotels and restaurants. According to the policy the ministry also has to enforce licensed alcohol retailers and wholesale shops from selling alcohol for on-premise consumption.
The suspension of issuance of new bar licenses still stands in the meantime. Department of industry’s director Tandin Tshering said the rule of prohibiting joint business with bar was in place long before the endorsement of alcohol control policy. The ministry has remained consistent in enforcing that bar should be separated from other establishments.
He said, while enforcing the rule in urban area was possible because of presence and reach of trade and industry offices, it was almost impossible in the rural corners. With the involvement of local government in monitoring and supervision now enforcing existing rule is expected to be stringent.
“The alcohol policy gives more teeth to the existing rule that the bar and other establishment need to separate,” he said adding that the two establishment must be separated because groceries and bar operation timing are different.
Should the two establishments be allowed, the existing rules in place could be undermined in terms of bar timing. People could come in pretext of buying grocery and quench their thirst for alcohol, he said.
Although rampant, the numbers of such joint establishments were not available. But most bars in the urban areas, the director said are standalones or partitioned and joint businesses are common in rural areas.
Among others, the economic affairs ministry, according to the alcohol policy, will enforce non-issuance of stand-alone bar licenses to minimize outlets. It will also suspend issuance of approval for alcoholic beverages project proposals for above 8 percent volume of alcohol in accordance with the resolution of the 8th session of the 1st Parliament of Bhutan. In the mid 1990s the sale of alcohol had become rampant. The ministry had then frozen issuing of new bar license for few years until January 1, 1999.
Director Tandin Tshering said, prior to the suspension license fee used to be nominal. But after the suspension was lifted, the fee was increased. It was raised from Nu 1,000 to 5,000 depending on places of operation. The increase was following rampant rent seeking behaviour among licence owners.
The ban was lifted only after rules such as illegal hiring of bar licences, banning bar operation near religious and educational institutes, observing dry days, selling liquor before 1 pm and prohibiting bars with other business came into effect. Yet again in 2010, following submission from dzongkhag and gewog administrations urging the need to control bar license, issuing new bar license was suspended in 2014.
After the second ban, owners who failed to renew their licenses on time were cancelled. Numbers of licenses cancelled so far were not available. Number of bar license since then has remained almost same at about 4,500, the director said. “We want to maintain that level,” he added.
But between 2009 and 2010, the licence fee was increased from Nu 5,000 in 2007 to Nu 15,000. The minimum fee then was Nu 3,000. The fee was increased to make holding of bar licenses expensive. At the same time excise duties and sales taxes on liquor was increased, the director said.
“The major problem right now could be as a result of expressive issuance of licenses or affordable access to alcohol,” he said. For instance in the East people need not go to a bar to drink but almost every household is a brewery, which makes alcohol easily accessible. “From the government side, we need to look at accessibility specially from the supply side,” he said. “We’ve to make licence as scarce as possible and every second shop should not sell alcohol.” He added that to control accessibility first step is to control bar license, than enforce rules strictly and make alcohol unaffordable.
According to the alcohol policy, economic affairs ministry will conduct joint inspections with relevant stakeholders such as BICMA, Thromde to enforce the prohibition of sale of alcohol. A procedural manual for conducting field inspections for alcohol retailing practices among outlets will also be developed.
Nirmala Pokhrel

Amici del Bhutan - Italy