Private sector growth is the answer

February 6, 2018

Priority sector lending (PSL) is really now really taking off.

The Cabinet has issued an order to form PSL committee in pursuant to the scheme that the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) launched. Dzondags will serve as the chairman of the committee. Members include representatives from the ministry of agriculture, labour, education, regional trade office, GNHC, land commission and the National Environment Commission.

What the PSL committee will do is assess and approve proposals submitted by prospective clients and provide clearances. Lack of such schemes has stunted the growth of small industries, which affected the overall economic growth. All these, ultimately, have direct link to some of the challenges that we are confronting today. That is why this development is important.

Already agriculture is getting some real place in our development strategy. From the total domestic loan of about Nu 97 billion, agriculture sector has been holding only five percent of the share, which is minuscule. Because agriculture is at the heart of economic development and the national dream of achieving food self-sufficiency, giving youth and farmers equal access to finance is important. What is good about this scheme is that it will not require collateral and guarantor.

The scheme has the real potential to address the issue of rising youth unemployment and decreasing contribution of the agriculture sector. Skewed vision and policy failures have been expensive.

It is estimated that PSL will inject a total of Nu 1.5 billion capital for cottage and small industries (CSI) – Nu 530 million for primary agriculture and livestock production and Nu 950 million for non-agriculture CSI. Commercial banks will now provide collateral-free loan for CSI. Interest rates would also be slashed. With interest rate at 8.5 percent, the maximum loan ceiling is Nu 500,000 for farmers and Nu 10 million for cooperatives and companies.

As we prepare to graduate from the group of the least developed countries, there is a need to look at agriculture seriously because doing so will also help the nation address the biggest bane of our times – rising youth unemployment. Private sector growth is the answer.


Health trust fund doubles to Nu 3.3B

February 6, 2018

Govt announced the availability of radiation therapy at the JDWNRH and a plan to start a cancer centre

About 15 cancer patients availed radiation therapy service at the national referral hospital in Thimphu since the service began last month.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay made this announcement during an event to commemorate the Move for Health Walk at the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu, yesterday.

Informing the people on the new health services established and those in plans, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said patients who cannot be treated in the country due to lack of capacity and health services are referred to India.

Last year, a total of 1,500 patients were referred to India at a cost of Nu 200 million (M). Of the total referrals, 550 were cancer patients.

“When a patient is referred outside Bhutan, it is a hassle for both the patient and the family so we are providing the service at home,” Lyonchhen said. “Chemotherapy services have already been started.” There is a plan to establish a cancer centre in the country soon.

Of the total referrals last year, about 20 were sent to India for kidney transplant. Lyonchhen said kidney transplant would also be done in the country soon.

“Doctors have been trained, equipment and machinery were purchased, and spaces for the service are readied.” In the last three years, 100 patients were referred to India for a kidney transplant.

Lyonchhen said Bhutan is different from the rest of the world because the country provides free health care to its people.

“The government spends billions of Ngultrums to provide free health care services to its people. Starting from a paracetamol to medicine for chemotherapy, every essential drug is brought from the Bhutan Health Trust Fund,” he said. “Our generations to come should also get what we get free now; so Bhutan Health Trust Fund is important.”

On October 1, 2016, the prime minister had said that the health trust fund will be doubled from Nu 1.5 billion (B) to Nu 3B in the next two years.

“Within 18 months, the capital fund was more than doubled to Nu 3.3B,” Lyonchhen said.

The prime minister acknowledged the support of all who helped in achieving the target including the health minister, health ministry and its staff, BHTF director and its staff, and the donor agencies.

BHTF received a grant of Nu 650M from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and an endowment of Nu 500M from the government. It is expected to receive returns of Nu 150M from its investments.

Resident representative of ADB Kanokpan Lao-Araya said ADB has been a long-time partner with the government of Bhutan since the inception of the BHTF.

She said ADB is working on a health sector development programme for Bhutan and will provide USD 20M in grant. Of the total grant, about USD 10M will be released to replenish BHTF. The programme is expected to commence by the end of the year.

“ADB is committed to helping Bhutan pave way for sustainable health financing that emphasise equity, access and quality across the health sector,” she said.

The government of Bangladesh committed to supplying 258 essential drugs worth about Nu 150M from September this year. Besides committing to donate USD 50,000 to the BHTF this year, Korea Bhutan Friendship Association also committed to donate 185 essential drugs out of the list provided by BHTF in 2019.

Lyonchhen said 300 patients were airlifted from across the country in about two years since the helicopter service was introduced in 2016. “The service was introduced to provide medical assistance to people in rural areas during emergencies.”

Lyonchhen said some politicians during their visits to villages, misled and misinformed the people about the government’s intention to corporatise JDWNRH and caused concern to people. “If doctors, civil servants and dzongdags say it then it may be true but if politicians say it then I have to say it is not true because it’s not.”

The government has only asked to study and assess the possibility of corporatising the hospital to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of health services, he said. “It was made clear that the initiative in no way intends to encourage commercialisation of services or levy charges to patients for public health services.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk who is also the chairman of BHTF said BHTF is playing an increasing role as a donor to the health ministry in ensuring the sustainability of basic primary health care services. “We have to ensure that sufficient resources are mobilised in order to make progress in moving towards universal quality health services and sustain the Constitutional mandate to provide free basic health care to all Bhutanese.”

As part of the event, a three-day medical expo was opened at the Clock Tower Square to provide a platform for pharmaceutical suppliers of Bhutan and manufacturers and distributors of medical products from neighbouring countries like Thailand, Nepal and India.

The medical expo is expected to build relationships and businesses as well as showcase advancement in medical technology and services.

During the event, the move for health special lottery draw was held and results declared. About Nu 38M worth of lottery tickets were sold since November 1 last year.

Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF) organised the move for health special lottery in collaboration with Bhutan Lottery Limited to mobilise recourses for the health trust fund.

A total of 300,000 tickets (15,000 booklets) were printed.

Dechen Tshomo


Presence of tigers reduces crop and livestock depredation, finds study

February 6, 2018

Conservationists have found a new way to persuade rural farmers to protect tigers, as they established a direct link between tiger presence and fewer incidences of crop and livestock depredation.

This, according to a recent study, ‘the ecological benefit of tigers to farmers in reducing crop and livestock losses in the eastern Himalayas: Implications for conservation of large apex predators by Phuntsho Thinley (PhD) of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) and fellow conservationists, should serve as a reason to dissuade farmers from killing tigers.

 tigers study

Courtesy: Phuntsho Thinley
It stated that justifying the need to conserve tigers based on their iconic status does not convince farmers, who lose crops and livestock to wild animals, to protect the top predator.

The study was conducted in 13 villages located in Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) on the inter-specific dynamics between tigers, leopards, and dholes, and their subsequent impact on livestock and crop losses faced by agro-pastoralists.

It stated that when a tiger was present in forests surrounding villages, leopards and dholes occupied areas closer to village croplands and preyed on a higher relative abundance of wild herbivore crop raiders, thereby significantly reducing crop and livestock losses.

Tiger influence on reduced crop loss frequency can be attributed to their displacement of leopards and dholes from deep forests to areas closer to cropland boundaries where they preyed on crop raiders such as wild pig (Sus scrofa), sambar (Rusa unicolor), and muntjac (Muntiacus muntjac) which were found in high relative abundance.

“In contrast, leopards and dholes occupied areas in deep forests farther from croplands when a tiger was absent in the village vicinity, leading to increased predation on a higher abundance of untended free-ranging livestock,” the study stated.

Studies conducted in the country concluded that it is a common herding practice to graze livestock unattended in forests near villages. According to the report, the absence of a tiger in the vicinity, leopards and dholes occupied areas farther away from cropland boundaries where they heavily predated on untended livestock.

“Although tigers do occasionally attack livestock, leopards and dholes are known to be principal predators of livestock, especially domestic cattle,” the report stated. “As such, the severity and frequency of livestock losses to predation in the forests are reduced in presence of a tiger in the vicinity because leopards and dholes were displaced much closer to cropland boundaries where relative livestock abundance is lower.”

It also stated that conservation practitioners should conserve large apex predators to maintain optimal inter-specific interactions in a large predator guild to benefit rural socio-economy.

The study, it claims, is timely because tigers are endangered in the face of increasing negative interactions with humans.

“It is especially relevant at the current tiger conservation crossroad where tiger scientists, conservation donors, and leaders of the tiger range countries commit to doubling tiger numbers.”

The study stated that conservation practitioners could use the significant finding to educate and dissuade rural farmers in developing countries from retaliating against the tiger in the event of livestock depredation.

It stated that conservation efforts must focus on adequate habitat protection, rigorous anti-poaching activities, education programmes to agro-pastoralists, better livestock husbandry practices and livestock compensation and insurance schemes.

Tashi Dema

National veterinary hospital opens in Thimphu

February 6, 2018
Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen yesterday inaugurated the national veterinary hospital in Motithang that would provide health services from diagnostic to therapeutic services.
The three-storied hospital, located near the Ozone Park, is expected to meet the increasing demand for modern animal care and treatment requirements for pets and domestic animals.
Agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji, said that the old national animal hospital at Chubachu and its amenities were unable to cope with the demand for modern animal care and treatment requirements for animals within Thimphu thromde and referral cases from other dzongkhags.
He said the hospital at Chubachu catered to 5,649 new and 12,361 follow up cases in 2017. “From 2014 – 2017, registered pets have increased almost by a third.”
The minister said that there are about 6,000 registered pet dogs and cats in Thimphu thromde.
He said that as 60 percent of human diseases originate from animals, effective control of diseases in animals would directly protect human health and contribute towards Gross National Happiness. “Therefore, services to animals will indeed be service to mankind.”
Agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji, said that with the new infrastructure in place, the ministry would put in place necessary human resources, diagnostic equipment and treatment facilities to ensure the provision of world-class animal care services. “On this auspicious occasion, we re-dedicate and pledge to provide the best of care and treatment to our animals in Bhutan.”
The inauguration commemorated the golden jubilee of formal diplomatic relations between Bhutan and India, as the government of India funded Nu 57 million for the hospital’s construction.
The prime minister, senior government officials, and the Indian ambassador to Bhutan attended the inaugural ceremony.
The hospital’s ground level would contain ward, cabins for animals, and doctor’s quarter, while the second level would have facilities such as consultation, operation and vaccination room, and laboratory. The third floor would have offices and a conference hall.
Karma Cheki


625 Black-Necked Crane recorded this year

The highest in the last three decades
The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) has counted 625 Black-Necked Cranes (BNC) in the country, the highest recorded to date.

The annual counting, which was done on February 2 recorded about 154 juveniles.

This is an increase of 70 cranes from 555 BNC in 2016-2017 winter periods.

RSPN in collaboration with Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) and community members were involved in the counting conducted between 6am to 7:30am when cranes are still at the roosting place.

A Eurasian crane was also spotted in Phobjikha.

Senior Project officer for Black-Necked Crane Conservation with RSPN, Jigme Tshering, said the numbers of the Black-Necked Cranes is increasing. “The number of juvenile cranes means that cranes had successful breeding. It also indicates the presence of a good habitat.”

He said that the reason for the increase could be attributed to awareness and outreach programmes on the endangered species. “Globally, the count of the Black-Necked Crane has also increased and reached over 11,000 today. It could also be because of the better conservation initiatives taken in the country.”

Some scientists around the world attribute the increase in numbers to global warming adding that glacier melting creates wetlands, which means larger breeding spaces, he said.

However, he said that the country has its issues to tackle such as predators and annual flooding in Bumdeling, Trashiyangtse when it came to conservation. “Although the sanctuary maintains the foraging areas annually, flood not only washes roosting areas but also the foraging areas.”

While in Bumthang, he said, encroachment into habitats, and increasing population and development activities are some issues for the cranes.

However, he said it was doubtful if the trend of increasing BNC numbers would be sustainable.

The first documentation of BNC during the winter periods between 1986 and 1987 recorded 370 BNC, a decrease of about 275 cranes.

Jigme Tshering said that in places such as Phobjikha, pictures of the cranes were taken for more accurate counting.

In the recently man-made pond in Uruk, Bumthang, four birds were sighted of which two were adults and the other two juveniles.

Phobjikha had the highest BNC count with 504 including a Eurasian crane, followed by Bumdeling with 102 cranes.

Khotokha recorded nine, Bumthang eight and Lhuentse with three cranes.

Rinchen Zangmo