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Himalayan Studies

Bhutan

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Where Gross National Happiness is the Measure for Development

In 2008, the Kingdom of Bhutan shifted the government structure from a monarchy to a constitutional democratic monarchy, opening the door for devolution of authority over natural resources, among other things, to regional governments and communities. Because the majority of Bhutanese resides in rural areas and depends on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods, the sustainable management of natural resources is critical for achieving the four pillars of Gross National Happiness. In collaboration with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), an international research and training facility in Bhutan, SFS students and faculty help advance Bhutan’s research agenda in several priority areas, including community forestry, human-wildlife interactions, and biodiversity conservation.
  • Semester Programs

    Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition

    Bhutan
    In Bhutan, a Himalayan country characterized by towering mountains, lush forests, and a unique cultural heritage, progress and development is evaluated on the basis of cultural preservation and environmental conservation rather than purely economic achievements. Student research will focus on enhancing the condition of forest, river, and mountain ecosystems while balancing the processes of modernization and cultural preservation.
  • Summer Programs

    Eastern Himalayan Forests and Rural Livelihoods

    Bhutan
    Traveling throughout Bhutan, students learn about culture and history, religious traditions, environmental issues, and conservation policies. Students explore the role environmental services and natural resources play in rural livelihood and national development. Students conduct research on Bhutan’s primary environmental concerns, including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development.

A full Five-Year Research Plan is under development for our program in Bhutan. The SFS program curriculum addresses the four pillars of the development plan of the Royal Government of Bhutan: preservation and promotion of culture; good governance; environmental sustainability; and sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development. Within that broad framework, we collaborate closely with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE)—our partner in Bhutan—to create a research agenda that aligns with specific priority areas to conduct applied and basic research in natural resource management, effectiveness of biological corridors, and species conservation.

The main question that drives our curriculum and research in Bhutan is: How can Bhutan secure its culture, biodiversity, and environment in the face of transition?

Problems

Modernization is reaching the furthest corners of this small country, with a strong focus on rural electrification, telecommunications, and road access. While a majority of people still reside in rural areas, rural to urban migration is on the rise. These processes are changing both rural and urban landscapes, and access to and use of natural resources including land, water, and forests. Food security is a significant issue with changing agricultural and livestock practices. People’s relationships, attitudes, and values with the environment are changing, which in turn affects policies and the institutions that set, monitor, and enforce them. Encounters between wildlife, livestock, and humans create problems that threaten rural livelihood and well-being. Being a mountainous country, Bhutan is also highly vulnerable to problems related to climate change and natural disasters.

Research Direction

The Royal Government of Bhutan is attempting to build and support democratic and effective institutions, and to prepare for and mitigate the social and environmental impacts of modernization and natural disasters alike. To assist our partner in addressing some of these problems, we will focus our research in three core areas:

  • People’s relationship with nature
  • Democratization, governance, rural development
  • Conservation and resource management
Cross-cutting themes in the curriculum that will support the research agenda include climate change, vulnerabilities, cultural values, water resources, and Buddhism and environment.



Having only recently opened its borders to tourism, the Kingdom of Bhutan is one of SFS’s newest locations. In this young democracy—where communal labor is common, but volunteerism is only an emerging practice—SFS partners with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), an international research and training center, to reciprocate with our host communities and neighbors.

While in Bhutan, students learn about the intricate relationship between nature and Buddhism, religion and environment. By attending festivals, engaging in community service, and participating in local sporting events, students further enhance their cultural understanding as well as becoming active members of the community. Additionally, SFS students and the Bhutanese trainees at UWICE have many opportunities to interact and learn from each other.

With the wealth of expertise at the Institute, students are able to learn from many guest lecturers. The partnership between UWICE and SFS helps the Institute advance its research agenda in several priority areas, including community and private forest management, watershed integrity, provision of freshwater in rural areas, and biodiversity conservation. The sharing of research data and information takes place through community meetings, technical presentations, a research symposium, and presentations to government officials.