GDP — composition, by sector of origin: agriculture: 16.2 percent (2017 estimated)
industry: 41.8 percent (2017 estimated)
services: 42 percent (2017 estimated)
Agriculture contributed about 26 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004; 38.5 percent of GDP in 1997 and 55 percent of GDP in 1985. .
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =; Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]]

Labor force — by occupation: agriculture: 58 percent
industry: 20 percent
services: 22 percent (2015 estimated) =
Agriculture employed 93 percent of the workforce in the 1980s.

Land use (2011 estimate): agricultural land: 13.6 percent; permanent crops: 0.3 percent; permanent pasture: 10.7 percent. Most of the farmable land is in the fertile valleys.
arable land: 2.6 percent(compared to 1 percent in Saudi Arabia, 20 percent in the United States, and 32 percent in France).
forest: 85.5 percent.
other: 0.9 percent.
Irrigated land: 32,000 hectares (320 square kilometers) in 2012. In 1998 only 40,000 hectares of land was irrigated. In 1980, 26,000 hectares was.

Bhutan was traditionally self-sufficient in food production and it near self-sufficiency in food permitted quantities of some crops to be exported to India in exchange for cereals.. Now Bhutan imports large amounts of basic food items, primarily from India. The Food Corporation of Bhutan imports subsidized rice, wheat, edible oils, sugar, and salt from India. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Despite increases in paddy production, with 26,000 hectares under cultivation in 1989, rice was imported. Bhutan had once been an exporter of rice to Tibet, but its growing urban population plus the nonfarm immigrant and migrant population put a severe constraint on previous self-sufficiency in rice production. With a total cereal demand of 200,000 tons by 1987, some 20,000 tons of rice and 12,000 tons of wheat were being imported from India annually. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Agriculture in Bhutan in the 1990s

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “The 1997 GDP consisted of a total production of 18.1 percent crops, 11.4 percent of economic activity in the forestry sector, and 9 percent livestock production. Of the 970,000 people who were employed in Bhutan in 1998 (using a population estimate of 2 million) 93.8 percent were engaged in agricultural activities. Between 1994-98 an annual average of 12,500 metric tons of rice, 12,500 tons of wheat, and 3,600 tons of sugar were imported. It is important to note that 58 percent of farming households own less than 2 hectares. This small level of landholding makes some households susceptible to seasonal shortages of food, to poor health, and even to malnutrition. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002 <=>]

Most of Bhutan's citizens and a significant amount of its GDP were devoted to the agricultural sector in the late 1980s. About 87 percent of the population was involved in agriculture, and a projected 30.5 percent of GDP was expected to be produced through farming, animal husbandry, and fishing in 1991. Most agriculture was carried out with traditional methods and at the subsistence level. Faced with constraints of a shortage of cultivable and pasture land, lack of technical knowledge, logistical difficulties, and a shortage of skilled labor and managerial expertise, agricultural development was difficult. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991*]

Grain production had not met demand, and imports were rising in the late 1980s. Shortages of feed contributed to low livestock productivity. Cash crops, such as oranges, apples, and cardamom, were significant, but they produced too little income to influence the overall economy. Government interest in agriculture was ensured during the First Development Plan (1961-66), with the establishment of agriculture and animal husbandry departments to oversee model farms, research, and crop and herd improvement, a trend which continued through subsequent development plans. *

Farming in Bhutan

Since there is little level land available for cultivation, fields are often terraced. Stone aqueducts carry irrigation water. The lowlying areas raise a surplus of rice that help feed area where crops grow less well. About 3.5 percent of the land area of Bhutan, comprising 165,000 hectares (408,000 acres), was used for seasonal and permanent crop production in 2002. There were 160,000 hectares of arable land under permanent crops in 1998, compared to 122,000 hectares in 1980. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Agricultural holdings are restricted to 12 hectares (30 acres) per family; almost all farm families own their own land. Since the mid-1960s, the government has established demonstration farms, distributed fruit plants, and implemented irrigation schemes. High-yielding varieties of rice, wheat, and corn seeds have been introduced. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

. Because rainfall and temperatures changed radically from one valley to the next, there were significant variations in the kinds of crops that were raised in neighboring communities. Most farms were small, with 90 percent of nearly 65,000 landholders having less than five hectares. Nearly 50 percent of those farms used terraced cultivation; another 18 percent were in valleys. Although banned by the government, tsheri (slash and burn) cultivation accounted for 32 percent of the agricultural land use and about 3 percent of the total land in the early to mid-1980s. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Farm Life in Bhutan

The majority of male Bhutanese are farmers, animal herders or monks. Most Bhutanese own and work their own small farms. Traditionally, the laboring population was not grouped into towns but rather lived in the countryside near monastery-fortresses called dzongs. Dzongs served as religious centers and regional or district government seats. Some have said that Bhutanese villages look like something out of Bruegal painting: peasants working in golden fields with neatly stacked stacks of hay. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Up until a couple decades ago about 90 percent of people in Bhutan were highland farmers, who planted crops of rice and chilies in the valleys and followed their livestock to the high pastures in summer. A typical rural family owned five acres of land terraced on a hillside. Each terrace was devoted to a specific crop: wheat, rice, chilies or potatoes.

A typical family raises corn, red papers, pumpkins and wheat (for bread and alcohol), potatoes and rice. Red chilies are dried on rooftops, hillsides and yards, Rice is stored in sheds, which have to be guarded around the clock from wild boars, deer and monkeys.

Much of the work is still done by hand. Rice is threshed by repeatedly swinging sheaves overhead and crashing them down on rocks until rice kernals break free and collect in piles on the ground. Wheat is harvested by women who use dowel-like sticks to grab and pull up fistfuls of wheat and break off the heads (which contain the grain). Wheat, earmarked for long-term storage, is gathered with the stalk, bound into sheaves and stored in the attic of the the family house. It is threshed as the family needs it.

Women are often in charge of fetching water, cooking, watching over the children and tending the family animals. In the past many were too busy taking care of these tasks to attend school. But that is no longer really the case. Girls still do a lot of chores but they also go to school. Women now play a significant role in the agricultural work force, where they outnumber men, who were leaving for the service sector and other urban industrial and commercial activities. Up to 90 percent of all Bhutanese women are involved in agricultural work (70 percent of the land registered in Bhutan is owned by women), although this figure is decreasing as more opportunities become available for women in other sectors of the economy.


In hilly and mountainous areas, terraces are widely used to make slopes into arable land. Terraces conserve soil and prevent erosion but their primary purpose is to create flat land that retains water rather than letting it trickle away. Temporary dams direct the flow of water. Dirt and water are kept in place with earth or earth-and-rock ridges, or dikes, that are constructed at a standard height of around 15 inches and are wide enough for people can walk on them.

In terraces on mountain slopes the high terraces are often rain-fed and used to grow crops that don't need much rain such as potatoes or dry land rice. Those further down receive irrigation water and are intensively cultivated to produce staples such as maize and wetland rice.

Many terraces have been used for hundreds and even thousands of years. In terraces that grow rice, water flows down hill in stages with plots near the top being planted first. After the water is used it is released filling the terraces below it. The rice is harvested in stages with plots at the bottom harvested last. In places where water is somewhat scarce, groups of fields are watered one at a time because relatively little water is wasted that way.

Some terraces are collectively owned and worked by a community. Others are owned by individuals, sometimes from distant villages, who are free to sell the land, work it, or lease it and consume or sell the crops that are grown on it. The water is distributed using a system like that used in conventional irrigation systems.

Agricultural Regions of Bhutan

Most agricultural land in Bhutan is in the Himalaya foothills and the southern loawlands not in the high Himalayan areas. There are three main types of land in Bhutan: 1) land that can be irrigated, regarded as the best quality land); 2) land that can be cultivated but not irrigated); and 3) land that generally can not be cultivated because it is too rocky or steep. The relatively well-off landowners generally get the best land and the poor generally getting the worst quality land. Bhutan’s mountainous terrain constrains land use options. The main crops and agriculture and livestock products are rice, corn, wheat, root crops, potatoes, milk, yak meat.

In the Himalayas foothills the climate depends primarily on elevation, which varies from 1000 meters or so in the valley bottoms to as high as 4,000 meters on the hillsides and tops of ridges. Agriculture mainly takes place on flat land in the valleys or in terraces on the hillsides. Situated south of the Himalayan mountains region, the foothill region includes the most fertile and urbanized area. There is a lack of good agricultural land and the growing season is relatively short, a phenomenon directly attributable to the climatic impact of the region's higher altitude. As a result, a farmer's ability to grow multiple crops is limited. Families have been forced to adapt to the marginality, as well as the seasonality, of their environment, cultivating their land whenever they could and growing whatever would survive.

Barry Bishop has noted that "as crop productivity decreases with elevation, the importance of livestock in livelihood pursuits . . . increases. For many Bhotia [or Bhote, Tibetan-related people] living in the highlands . . . animal husbandry supplants agriculture in importance." During the slack season, when the weather did not permit cropping, hill dwellers generally became seasonal migrants, who engaged in wage labor wherever they could find it to supplement their meager farm output. Dependence on nonagricultural activities was even more necessary in the mountain ecological belt.

Much of Bhutan’s most productive agricultural land is in a lowland tropical and subtropical belt of flat, alluvial land stretching along the Bhutan-India border, and paralleling the Hill Region, is between 300 meters and 1,000 meters in elevation. The equivalent region in Nepal — the Terai — serves as the country's granary and land resettlement frontier. But laws in Bhutan that preserve its forests keep this region from being developed and turned in a major agricultural area. Otherwise it is a region of swamps, grasslands, jungles and forests that extends across the southern part of the country. The region remained isolated for a long time.

Agriculture and Herding in the Himalayan Region of Bhutan

There is not much agricultural land in the mountains. In general, the snow line occurs between 5,000 and 5,500 meters. The region is characterized by inclement climatic and rugged topographic conditions, and human habitation and economic activities are extremely limited and arduous. Indeed, the region is sparsely populated, and whatever farming activity exists is mostly confined to the low-lying valleys and the river basins.

In the early 1990s, pastoralism and trading were common economic activities among mountain dwellers. Because of their heavy dependence on herding and trading, transhumance was widely practiced. While the herders moved their goths (temporary animal shelters) in accordance with the seasonal climatic rhythms, traders also migrated seasonally between highlands and lowlands, buying and selling goods and commodities in order to generate muchneeded income and to secure food supplies.

The high Himalayan economy focuses on plateau animal husbandry and farming. Sheep, goat and yak are their main domestic animals and highland barley and wheat are their main crops. Zanba (roasted highland barley) and buttered tea are main food for herdsmen. Wheat (for bread and alcohol), buckwheat, potatoes, peas, mustards, dry land rice, corn, red peppers, pumpkins, turnips, broad beans, radishes and cabbage are also grown. Fruit trees grow in some places.

Crops in Bhutan

Main agricultural products:: rice, maize (corn), root crops, citrus; dairy products, eggs, millet. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Major crops for export: fruit, vegetables, oranges, apples, apricots and cardamom grown in the lowlands and sold primarily in Asian markets. According to AFP: “Bhutan sends rare mushrooms to Japan, vegetables to upmarket hotels in Thailand, its highly-prized apples to India and elsewhere, as well as red rice to the United States.”Bhutan's chief export for a while was potatoes carried in 100-kilogram sacks. Bhutanese apples are highly sought after in India. The climate in Bhutan is also suited for growing peaches, plums and apricots.

Bhutan has some of the highest rice paddies in the world. Located at an elevation of 2,300 meters (7,500 feet), they can only produce one crop of the country's distinctive red rice unlike lowland paddies which can produce two. [Source: John Scofield,, National Geographic, November 1976]

The major cereal crops in the 1980s were corn, rice, wheat and barley, buckwheat, and millet. Other major annual crops were potatoes, chilies, vegetables, soya beans, pulses, and mustard. Horticultural crops included oranges, apples, and cardamom. Corn and rice were by far the most prevalent crops, producing 81,000 tons and 80,000 tons, respectively, in 1988. In the same year, a total of 51,000 tons of oranges, 50,000 tons of potatoes, 16,000 tons of wheat, 7,000 tons of millet, 4,000 tons of barley, and 4,000 tons of apples were produced. Total cereal production, however, only increased from 154,000 tons in 1979 to 205,000 tons in 1987. Nonfood crops, such as jute, which was produced by fewer than 2 percent of Bhutan's farmers, also were grown. A small amount of tobacco was produced, with a reported crop of 100 tons in 1987, the same amount produced annually for nearly a decade. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “Cereal production increased from 95,000 metric tons in 1989 to a consistent level of 112,000 tons per annum in the period 1995 to 1998. While self-sufficient in maize, barley, millet, and buckwheat, Bhutan is only 50 percent self-sufficient in rice and 30 percent in wheat. In total the country is around 60 percent self-sufficient in cereals. Other key crops which are actually exported are potatoes, spices (mainly cardamom and nutmeg), and fruit which in 1997 consisted mainly of oranges (54,000 metric tons) and apples (13,600 metric tons). In total, agricultural goods provided 13.7 percent of Bhutan's total exports in 1997. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002 <=>]

In 2004, the output of paddy rice was around 45,000 tons. Other important crops included wheat, maize, millet, buckwheat, barley, potatoes, sugarcane, cardamom, walnuts, and oranges. A significant large chunk of the cereal crop was is used in making beer and ara, a potent spirit distilled from rice, barley, and millet. Paper is made from the daphne plant, which grows wild. Walnuts, citrus fruits, apples, and apricots are grown in government orchards. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007]

Bhutan Aims to Be 100 Percent Organic

In 2012, the Bhutanese government said that Bhutan was aiming to become the first nation in the world to make much of its agricultural output organic. AFP reported: Bhutan’s determination to chart a different path can be seen in its new policy to phase out artificial chemicals in farming in the next 10 years, making its staple foods of wheat and potatoes, as well as its fruits, 100 percent organic. “Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet," Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho told AFP in an interview by telephone from the capital Thimphu. “If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature." [Source: Adam Plowright, Agence France-Presse, October 4, 2012]

Gyamtsho says the majority of farmers are “already organic and reliant on rotting leaves or compost as a natural fertilizer. “Only farmers in areas that are accessible by roads or have easy transport have access to chemicals," he explained, saying chemical use was already "very low" by international standards. In the large valleys, such as the one cradling the sleepy capital Thimphu, chemicals are used to kill a local weed that is difficult to take out by hand — a challenge compounded by a lack of farm labor.

Elsewhere, the fertilizer urea is sometimes added to soil, while a fungicide to control leaf rust on wheat is also available. “We have developed a strategy that is step-by-step. We cannot go organic overnight," Gyamtsho said, describing a policy and roadmap that were formally adopted by the government last year. “We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example."

“Nadia Scialabba, a global specialist on organic farming at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, says the organic food market and its premium prices are attractive for small countries and territories. “This is happening in very small countries who are not competitive on quantity, but would like to be competitive in quality," she told AFP. The global organics market was estimated to be worth 44.5 billion euros (US$57-B) in 2010, according to figures from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

By shunning fertilizers and other chemicals, Bhutan also stands to gain by reducing its import bill — a particular concern for a country short on foreign currency. Peter Melchett, policy director at Britain's organic Soil Association, says the main benefit of becoming 100 percent organic is an assurance of quality to consumers. “Because there won't be pesticides or other chemicals on sale in the kingdom, they would be able to offer a high level of guarantees that products are organic," Melchett explained. In countries like Spain, for example, there is a problem of contamination when organic farms are next to highly industrialized producers using large quantities of artificial chemicals, Melchett said. “It's difficult for organic farmers in those circumstances to keep their crops and supply-chain free of contamination."

Bhutan's organic policy would "start to give the country a reputation of high quality organic food which in the long-run would give them a market advantage and the possibility of price premiums," he added. Jurmi Dorji, a member of the 103-strong Daga Shingdrey Pshogpa farmers' association in southern Bhutan, says his fellow members are in favor of the policy. “More than a decade ago, people realized that the chemicals were not good for farming," he told AFP. "I cannot say everyone has stopped using chemicals but almost 90 percent have."

Agriculture Practiced by Different Groups in Bhutan

Aboriginal, indigenous and non-Bhutanese and non-Nepalese migrant groups make up about 15 percent of the population. These include the Assamese, who also live in Assam, India, Tibetans and a variety of indigenous ethnic groups. Culturally and linguistically part of the populations of West Bengal or Assam, many of small aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples practice forms of Hinduism, are organized into caste or caste-like hierarchies and engage in wet-rice and dry-rice agriculture.

Bumthaps, Mangdeps (Makheps) and Khengpas are people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively and inhabit the central areas of Bhutan. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep and produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, vegetables, besides rearing domestic animals. They were classified as butchers in Tibet before they fled to Bhutan from the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. Buddhists are not allowed to kill animals. Butchering in Bhutan is done by the Mangdeps, who have have been regarded as a kind of caste. The khengpas are also dependent on agriculture much like the Mangdeps. [Source: Tourism Council of Bhutan,]

Lhotshampa is a term used to describe the Nepalese in Bhutan or at least some of them — the ones that have lived in Bhutan for generations or at least for a considerable amount of time. In 2004, the UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency) estimated there were 241,899 Lhotshampa in Bhutan. The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of Bhutan. It is believed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century. Traditionally, the Lhotshampa have been involved mostly in sedentary agriculture, although some have cleared forests and practiced slash and burn agriculture. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges. [Source: Tourism Council of Bhutan,]

The Layaps live in the extreme north of Bhutan and speak layapkha, a Tibeto-Burman language. Like the Brokpas, they are semi-nomadic and their livelihood is dependent upon yaks and sheep. They use the products of their herd animals to barter rice, salt and other consumables with the people of WangduePhodrang and Punakha. They have traditionally lived near the Tibet border and engaged in trade as well herding. Most Layap live in the high mountains of northwest Bhutan in the village of Laya, in the Gasa District, at an altitude of 3,850 meters (12,630 ft), just below the Tsendagang peak. They also live in Punakha and Thimphu.Ethnically related to the Tibetans, they number about 1,100 (2003). Little grows in areas where the Layap lives except grass for animals. One of the main sources of income is the collection of cordyceps (caterpillar fungus), valuable traditional Chinese medicine. Sometimes their livestock is taken by snow leopards. [Source: Wikipedia]

Livestock in Bhutan

Cattle: 309,277; chickens: 349,000; goats :43,314; pigs: 17,711; sheep: 12,699. In 2004, there were 372,000 cattle, 41,000 pigs, 20,000 sheep, and 30,000 goats. At that time there were 28,000 horses, 18,200 donkeys, and 9,900 mules. [Source: 2013 World Almanac; Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007]

The number of cattle in Bhutan increased 34 percent between 1982 and 1994. This is partly the result of the influx of Nepalese. Some bulls are used from plowing and dung and cows are kept for milk and butter. In Higher elevations yaks.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “Cattle and some sheep graze in the lowland forests and, during the summer, in the uplands and high valleys. Meat production in 2004 was estimated at 6,900 tons, 74 percent of it beef. Wool has been in short supply since its importation from Tibet was stopped by the government in 1960; sheep breeding is therefore encouraged. In 2004, 1,080 tons of cattle hides were produced. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007 =|=]

Yaks in Bhutan

Yaks are cattle-like animals about the size of small oxen. Adapted for living at high altitudes, they have long hair that hangs off their sides like a curtain, sometimes touching the ground. Underneath is a soft undercoat that keeps the animal warm in the coldest and windiest environments. Yaks are highly valued by Himalayan peoples. They carry goods, possessions and household goods; they provide food and hair that can be made into tents, clothes and other products. Some nomads ride on their yaks and some farmers use yaks to plow their plots of land. Yak dung is used to make fires in a land where there are no trees (many Tibetan houses have piles of drying yak dung next to the walls). Brightly colored tassels that hang from the yaks identify ownership.

Unlike most Himalayan peoples which use yaks only as beasts of burden, the Bhutanese put saddles on their yaks and ride them. The Bhutanese love dried yak meat, but since they are Buddhists they are not allowed to slaughter the animals. Usually the task is performed by non-Buddhists who provided the service among the Tibetans. [Source: John Scofield, National Geographic, November 1976]

Yak and sheep caravans traditionally brought wool and salt from Tibet’s Chumbi Valley and traded it for Indian tea. Yak butter and cheese are made by boiling a huge vat of yak milk cooked over a yak dung fire. Yaks provide meat, hides, butter, dung fuel and hair for fabric and clothes tents. Yak tails as sold as fans or dusters. Traditional yak hair hats look like a black hair wig with a few stray deadlocks. The "horns" are used to keep rainwater from dripping down over the wearer's face.

Brokpas: Bhutan’s Traditional Yak Herders

The Brokpas (Drogpas) and Bramis are a semi nomadic community. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan. They mostly depend on yaks and sheep for their livelihood and do not typically grow crops due to the high altitude zones they inhabit. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool. They are also experts in cane and bamboo crafts. The Brokpas have traditionally been a nomadic group of yak herders who retain some ancient customs and beliefs, which predate the introduction of Buddhism. [Source: Tourism Council of Bhutan,]

The Merak and Sakten valleys — within Trashigang Dzongkhag (district) — is inhabited by Brokpas. Situated at a height of 3000 meters, the valley remains untouched by the influence of the outside world. The Brokpas depend almost entirely on yak rearing and animal husbandry for their livelihoods. Bartering is still the main form of economic activity amongst the Brokpas. They barter their Yak products for food grains and other daily necessities with the neighbouring Sharchops.

The Brokpa also live in Arunachal Pradesh, India. On the ones that live there and the relationship with lowlanders, Rinchin Tsering, Leema Bora, Kazuo Ando and Yasuyuki Kosaka, wrote in Himalayan Study Monographs: Monpa people at Dirang Circle are classified into two groups according to their lifestyle,“Unpa (field cultivators at lower altitude)”and“Brokpa (pastoralists at higher altitude).”One of the major characteristics of Brokpa’s livelihood is seasonal moving around the grazing land at the altitude from 3000 meters to 4500 meters with Yak, cow and their cross-breeding, or sheep. Brokpa have close relationship with Unpa in terms of landholding, agricultural production and trading, and marriage. Brokpa owe the land and staple food to Unpa, and Unpa instead obtain the cheese and butter which are important protein source for them. [Source: “The Brokpa and their Social Development: The Work of M/S Dunkarpa Welfare Association at Dirang Circle of West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh, India” by Rinchin Tsering, Leema Bora, Kazuo Ando and Yasuyuki Kosaka, Himalayan Study Monographs (2010), 11:191-195]

Brokpa Lifestyle

Rinchin Tsering, Leema Bora, Kazuo Ando and Yasuyuki Kosaka, wrote in Himalayan Study Monographs: “One of the major characteristics of Brokpa’s livelihood is transhumance at the land above 3000 meters above sea level, namely seasonal moving around the grazing lands with the livestock at the different altitude. In the winter season from the middle of October to March, Brokpa people stay in their permanent village at the altitude of 3000m, engaging trading or weaving as well as milk production. The permanent village consists of 10 to 20 houses, where small children or the elderly who can’t bear the hard work at the high altitude land stay all the year round. As the temperature increases in April or May, they start to move to grazing lands at the higher altitude with carrying the luggage on the back of“Dzo (the male cross-breeding of Yak and cow)”. For example, Brokpa of Melak Mu village have three places for seasonal grazing, such as the land at 3200 meters from April to May and from September to October, at 3500 meters from May to June and from August to September, and at 4000m from July to August. During the move in summer season, they formerly stayed in the temporary tent made of Yak hair, which is recently replaced by small wooden house, engaging in milking and producing cheese and butter. Yak and its crossbreeding play an essential role in Brokpa’s livelihood not only as the food source but also as the material for cloth or religious tool, and bride-price. The“Yak Dance,”indicating the legend of introducing Yak into this region long time ago, and performed at“Lossar Festival (Monpa’s New Year Festival)”in February, is also reflecting such an importance of Yak and its crossbreeding. [Source: “The Brokpa and their Social Development: The Work of M/S Dunkarpa Welfare Association at Dirang Circle of West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh, India” by Rinchin Tsering, Leema Bora, Kazuo Ando and Yasuyuki Kosaka, Himalayan Study Monographs (2010), 11:191-195]

The grazing lands are created by cutting the forest harboring large coniferous trees of Abies sp., splendidly flowering shrubs of Rhododendron spp., etc. The tall trees are not cut alive, but firstly killed by laying the aconite poison collected from an herbaceous plant Aconitum sp. on the trunk where the bark was removed roundly at the height of 1.5 meters from the ground. Then, the created open grazing lands are full of grasses which sheep, Yak and its cross-breeding prefer to eat, and other herbaceous plants with colorful flowers. Although the grasses at the high altitude land are dwarf and less in amount due to the cold weather even in the summer season, they are recognized to be more nutritious than the ones at low altitude land. The vegetation of grazing land surrounded by Abies forest provides various kinds of useful resources to local people too. Some kinds of herbs and shrubs produce edible leaves or fruits and medicines, the large leaves of Rhododendron sp. are used for wrapping cheese and butter, and the shoot of coniferous shrub Juniperus sp.

“Thus, the Brokpa in this area are predominantly engaged in pasturage at the high altitude grazing lands without cultivating agricultural crops. Therefore, they have to obtain the grains, most popularly maize and rice, for their staple food as well as salt, chilli, edible oil, or other daily utensils from lowland agricultural people, which will be mentioned below.

“In terms of landholding, all the grazing lands on which Brokpa and their livestock live belong to the clans of Unpa. Every Brokpa family has to pay tax to the land-owning clan of Unpa every year by cheese and butter, livestock or cash. For example, one Brokpa family of Melak Mu village brings 6 kg of cheese, 6 kg of butter, and 1 yak or Rs. 7000 to Dunkarpa clan as tax in December every year. The average price of cheese and butter is 200 - 250Rs per kg. In the land of Dunkarpa clan which is composed of 48 Unpa families, a total of 26 Brokpa families are settling and grazing their livestock.

“Cheese and butter supplied by Brokpa had been the important protein source to Unpa who seldom took animal meat or fish due to the religious belief. Cheese and butter produced by Brokpa is supplied not only by tax payment but also by periodical trading between Brokpa and Unpa. When Unpa visit the Brokpa village, they bring grains, vegetables, or alcohol on the back of horses and exchange to cheese and butter. Equally, Brokpa visit the Unpa village carrying cheese and butter, or useful plants produced only at the higher altitude. In the case of trade with remote area, the trip takes 10 days including 4 days trekking on the mountain trail for one-way. Brokpa have the regular trading partner called“Natsan”at the Unpa village.

“Brokpa live in such a remote place that they can not receive the ration of foods distributed by the government. Moreover, the younger generation of the Brokpa’s community prefers salaried jobs or even daily wage earners to hard working of livestock grazing at high altitude land. To cope with these practical problems in Brokpa’s livelihood, the association is now constructing the site for permanent settlement, school education, and human and animal health service along the roadside 2 km far from Melak Mu village. The site is called New Melak Mu village, where Brokpa of Melak Mu village are supposed to migrate to live. For their obtaining regular cash income, the association is planning to construct a milk processing factory around the site.”

Timber in Bhutan

One of Bhutan's significant natural resources is its rich forests and natural vegetation. Bhutan's location in the eastern Himalayas, with its subtropical plains and alpine terrain, gives it more rainfall than its neighbors to the west, a factor greatly facilitating forest growth. The forests contain numerous deciduous and evergreen species, ranging from tropical hardwoods to predominantly oak and pine forests.The small population and the general absence of overdevelopment in Bhutan contributed to forest preservation. Because of the terrain, the more accessible forests had been overcut whereas remote forests remained largely in their natural state. A progressive government-sponsored forestry conservation policy strove to balance revenue needs with ecological considerations, water management, and soil preservation. Success in managing its forest resources had long been critical to the local environment and economy and also affected downstream floodplains in India and Bangladesh. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Blue pine which grows at high elevation and chiri pine which grows at lower elevations are valued as sources of timber. Teak and sal harvested from Bhutan were used to make railroad ties for India’s railroads. In 1999, the export of raw timber was made illegal. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “About 64 percent of Bhutan's land area was covered with forests in 2002. Although lack of transportation facilities has hampered forest development, timber has become a major export. Roundwood production in 2003 totaled 4.5 million cu meters (160 million cu feet), about 99 percent of which was used for fuel. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007 =|=]

According to UN statistics, in the decade between 1978 and 1987 Bhutan harvested an average of nearly 3.2 million cubic meters of roundwood and produced 5,000 cubic meters of sawn wood per year. Of this total, nearly 80 percent was for commercial use (paper pulp, veneers, plywood, particle board, and firewood), and the remainder was for housing construction and public works. Before hydroelectric power and other modern energy sources were available, wood was the almost exclusive source of fuel for heating, cooking, and lighting. The provision of electricity, as well as better regulation of fuelwood collectors and more aggressive reforestation projects, was seen in the 1980s as a key factor in forest conservation. Because affordable electricity was not available throughout the country, the government established fuelwood plantations near villages to accommodate daily needs and to promote forest conservation. *

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “ In 1997-98, 27,770 cubic meters of trees were felled for commercial logging and an additional 22,884 cubic meters for housing construction and public works. The gross sales of Bhutan Board Products in 1998 were Nu383.8 million. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002 <=>]

Preservation of Bhutan’s Timber Resources

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “The government is actively trying to maintain the economic exploitation of Bhutan's extensive forestry resources at sustainable levels. In keeping with the GNH concept, plans by the Forest Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture for improved harvesting of forests are being undertaken to assure environmental balance. For example, 60 percent of Bhutan's total land area is required to have good tree cover; by 2000 72 percent was covered. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002 <=>]

The Department of Forestry was established in 1952 to oversee conservation and exploitation of the country's significant forestry resources. After an initial decade of development, forestryresource exploitation increased with the start of the First Development Plan in 1961. Uncontrolled felling of trees in the 1970s by private companies in logging areas and by rural populations along roads and in main valleys stripped hillsides and caused serious erosion. Tsheri cultivation, forest fires, and overgrazing also contributed to the degradation of the forestry resource. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

In 1971 the Forestry School was established at Kalikhola in southern Bhutan. It was moved to Taba in the northern Thimphu Valley in 1977. The school provided basic instruction in forestry and forest management and trained foresters and Forest Guards. In 1981 some 3.3 million hectares, or between 70 and 74 percent of the land, were forested, but in 1991 foreign estimates indicated a shrinking forest of only 60 to 64 percent of the land. Even more conservative estimates indicated that closer to 50 percent of Bhutan's territory still was forested in the late 1980s, and about 15 percent of GDP was produced through the nation's important forest industry.*

Recognizing the potential value of its forestry resource, Bhutan became increasingly conscientious about forestry management in the 1970s. Starting in 1977, the World Wildlife Fund began supporting Bhutan's forest management through organizing forest ranger training programs, supplying funds for forest boundary demarcation, building guard posts, and constructing a patrol road for what was later to be designated the Royal Manas National Park. Bhutan rejected World Bank aid to build a major dam on the Manas Chhu in 1986 that would have flooded this major conservation area on the southern Bhutan-India border. By 1989 Bhutan had developed nine other forest and wildlife preserves, also mostly along the southern border with India. *

In the face of increasing denuded hillsides, private logging was banned, and strict standards for public-sector logging operations were established in 1979. Farmers were warned against burning off forests to clear land for tsheri cultivation, and Forest Guards were trained in increasing numbers to help preserve the valuable resources. Surveying, demarcation, conservation, and management plans for harvesting forest products were part of the Fifth Development Plan's focus on forestry preservation. Wildlife sanctuaries also were developed. One of the immediate results of forestry sector regulation, however, was a sharp decrease in revenues since the late 1970s. In 1991 the government, with assistance from UNDP and the World Wildlife Fund, established a trust fund for environmental conservation. Initially in the amount of US$20 million, the UNDP-administered fund was aimed at producing up to US$1 million per year for training in forestry and ecology, surveying forests, reviewing and implementing management plans for protected areas, and supporting government environmental offices, public awareness programs, and integrated conservation and development programs. *

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Council of Bhutan (, National Portal of Bhutan, the Bhutan government’s main site (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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