Mr. Christopher Holtz, the Program Officer for Asia in Conservation and Sustainable DevelopmentProgram of the MacArthur Foundation arrived in the country on 5th October 2009. He was invited for a 3-day visit by Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, the Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture after the Lyonpo’s recent fund raising trip to the United States from 7-21 September 2009.
On 6th October, Mr. Chris Holtz visited Dodeyna under the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) together with the Hon’ble Lyonpo; Country Representative of WWF-Bhutan Program; Director of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment (UWICE); Head of Nature Conservation Division (NCD); and Park Manager of Jigme Dorji National Park. He was introduced to the objectives of park management, the current issues and funding gaps faced by the park, and the future plans and programs, mainly geared towards making the park more sustainable and self-financed. Chris was also introduced to probably the world’s cheapest game, Doego, on the riverside.
Chris enjoying Doego with Hon’ble Lyonpo’s team versus Park team
Chris met the staff of Bhutan Foundation in the afternoon. The Hon’ble Minister hosted a dinner for Chris at the Golf Canteen along with Hon’ble Secretary, Country Representative of WFF-Bhutan, and top officials from the Department of Forest.
On the morning of October 7, Chris had a brief meeting with the Hon’ble Minister and the Hon’ble Secretary both of whom welcomed and thanked him for coming to Bhutan despite his busy schedule. Hon’ble Minister thanked the MacArthur foundation for generously supporting conservation activities in Bhutan and remarked, “Almost all parks in Bhutan are linked to MacArthur Foundation”. Among many, three important issues dominated the discussion: a) The climate change summit to be held in Bhutan and to be funded by MacArthur Foundation and organized by UWICE, b) Possibilities for granting seed money to UWICE endowment fund, and c) funding Jigme Dorji National Park in developing sustainable nature-based tourism with an exit strategy to make the park self-financed. Hon’ble Lyonpo also talked about possible funding for Integrated Gasa Development Program that includes renovation of Gasa Dzong and Gasa Tshachhu and briefed him that Gasa Dzongkhag will be declared an Organic and Eco District, by virtue of being the only Dzongkhag that is entirely located inside a national park.
Chris then met with the officials of the Department of Forest (DoF), chaired by the Director of Forest, at the DoF conference hall. In his welcome address, the Director of Forest also thanked Chris who is on behalf of MacArthur Foundation for generously supporting the Department of Forest, particularly the national parks. The Director proclaimed, “Bhutan is the hub of environmental conservation” with unfaltering political support and commitment for conservation, and therefore it is an excellent opportunity for a long-term collaboration between MacArthur Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture. He also stated, “The health of ecosystems and our forests impinge on the happiness and well-being of our people” and since conservation involves costs and investment, there will always be a need for financial support which can be taken up by international donors such as MacArthur Foundation. Indeed, MacArthur Foundation has supported conservation works in Bhutan since 1990s.
After thanking the kind words and introductory notes by the Director, Chris introduced himself briefly. He briefed the forestry officials that the Foundation has eight priority areas in the world out of which three are in Asia Pacific, viz., Eastern Himalayas, Lower Mekong Region, and Pacific Islands. All were sensitised that the Foundation provides grants for conservation of large landscapes only with the primary belief that healthy ecosystems are important for healthy livelihoods. He also emphasised that grants will be more focused on climate change with special attention on vulnerability assessments and adaptations. He further stressed avenues for testing the science, capacity buildings, and innovations for adaptations to climate change are underfunded and MacArthur Foundation will cover this gap or niche. Lastly, the Director of UWICE, made a short presentation on conservation in Bhutan, its history, current status, challenges with special reference to GLOF, other vulnerabilities to climate change, and some of the national adaptation strategies such as reassessing the efficacies of biological corridors.
In the afternoon, the Honourable Secretary and the Director of the Department of Forest along with heads of functional Divisions hosted a lunch to Chris at the Plums Café. Chris then met with staff of Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) who briefed him on the roles, mandates, and programs of the society. He was also presented with current status and progress on the utilisation of the fund provided by MacArthur Foundation, particularly the Black-necked crane conservation at Phobjikha.
Mr. Chris said that he was very much honoured, privileged, and extremely delighted to be here in the country and for being able to meet and talk to key personnel in the Ministry of Agriculture and other key players of Bhutan’s nature conservation, namely, WWF-Bhutan Program, Bhutan Foundation, and RSPN. He said he has learned a lot,and has become more educated and more focused on the upcoming financial support for Eastern Himalayas. He said he won’t miss the opportunity to visit Bhutan again in July 2010.
Reported by Phuntsho Thinley, Park Manager, JDNP