Growing our forests and communities
Our core mission
As part of our core mission, MyBhutan has founded, funds and leads the implementation of various nonprofit projects including Growing our forests and communities. We plant over 40,000 tree saplings per year in an effort to conserve our open wilderness and bring value to rural farm families and monastic communities.
Why tree planting is important for Bhutan
To conserve our open wilderness
Bhutan is one of the only three carbon negative countries in the world. This was not a natural occurrence, though. It was the result of decades of concerted efforts by the Bhutanese to protect their surroundings. It began in the early 1970’s when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced Gross National Happiness index as Bhutan’s leading policy and declared conservation of the environment as one of the index’s four key pillars.
Bhutan is the only country with constitutional obligations to protect the environment. Among its requirements, at least 60 percent of the nation must remain under forest cover at all times. Currently, over 70% of Bhutan remains forested. Over 50% of its total land area is protected — the 4th highest percentage worldwide — which has created a sanctuary for over 770 bird, 200 mammals and 5,400 plant species. It is recognized as one of the most protected global biodiversity hotspots on our planet.
But regardless of its concerted efforts, Bhutan still falls victim to the negative effects caused by our warming planet. The rising global temperatures have drastically accelerated the rate of glacial melt in Bhutan’s high highlands. Annual retreat levels have risen up to 35m, feeding massive amounts of water into surrounding lakes. If lake walls become unstable, their barriers burst and set loose a massive volume of water that could cause significant damage to the valleys and its inhabitants below. Deforestation through lodging, natural calamities, and man made forest fires are also evident. This has consequences for the diverse ecosystems and various forms of wildlife that depend on the forest covers to survive.
Staying carbon negative will help protect Bhutan from these growing issues. It requires an aggressive approach to maintaining tree cover and conserving Bhutan’s open wilderness.
To bring value to rural farm families and monastic communities
Bhutan is typically an agrarian country, with over 55% of its labor force working in the agricultural sector — more than double the global average — and 95% of the earning women. With the capital city, Thimphu, opening to other industries at a much faster pace than the rest of the country, agriculture plays an essential role in maintaining inclusive economic integrity across the nation. Along with its byproduct, ecotourism, agriculture is the lifeline to raising the value of rural land and the per capita income for Bhutanese living in these rural communities.
In addition to rural farm families, the monastic communities have also experienced the need to raise their land value and become more self-sufficient. With the private sector quickly growing, sections of monastic land have been leased for alarmingly low rates to private business owners. In 2020, His Majesty’s Office launched an initiative to increase the value of monastic land in order to protect its fair value.
For both rural farm families and monastic communities, planting high-value fruit-bearing trees fosters food security and opens avenues for the commercial market. It also contributes to the national food and nutrition security.
However, the startup costs to own fruit-bearing trees is too high for most and entry into the marketplace (with Indian sellers becoming a more prominent segment of the market due to better road conditions between Thimphu and the southern border) makes the startup costs less intriguing. So, it is of major benefit to provide farmers and monastic communities with this opportunity to enter into the market with fruit-bearing trees at no initial cost.
Our active projects
As part of our mission, we implement our nonprofit projects but do not own the final product. All trees that we plant become the ownership of the family, community or protected land for which we plant them.
The Village Fruits Farm Project
Many Bhutanese farmers do not grow fruit-bearing trees due to lack of access to saplings and the startup costs to enter into the marketplace. The objective of the Village Fruit Farms Project is to provide farmers nationwide with high-value fruit-bearing tree saplings at no cost. In April 2022, we initiated the project by planting walnut and hazelnut saplings on private farm land owned by local farmers in Bongo village of Chukha Dzongkhag.
Located in southern Bhutan along the Indian border, Chukha is home to Bhutan’s oldest and the largest hydropower plant, Chukha hydel and Tala Hydroelectricity Project respectively. Chukha also has some of the oldest industrial companies in Bhutan and contributes the most to the GDP of the country largely because it sits as the bordertown to India. While the district is industrialized, farming remains a key part of the local's means to a livelihood. The climate in Chukha is favorable to fruit-bearing trees and the survival rate for the saplings is high, making the location ideal for tree planting.
The Trans Bhutan Trail Reforestation Project
The Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) is the restoration of an ancient trail once used for pilgrimage, communications and trade from East to West Bhutan. The trail fell into disuse in the late 1960’s with the construction of the National Highway. In 2019, a Royal Command was made to restore the trail. Stretching 403km over 12 mountain passes and connecting 9 Dzongs, the trail winds its way through diverse landscapes from urban centers and small villages to deep rhododendron forest and high alpine meadow. After over two years, the surveying and restoration of the trail is near complete. There is now a focus to regenerate the surrounding forests. In 2022, we initiated The Trans Bhutan Trail Reforestation Project in partnership with TBT to plant tree saplings to preserve and enrich the land’s ecosystem balance and function, restore degraded landscapes, and reintroduce endangered species to their natural habitat.
Bhutan has a rich biodiversity with over 5,400 plant species. The landscape is diverse with varying microclimates. We work with experts and partner organizations to identify appropriate areas for forestation and identify native saplings that will not disrupt the natural ecosystem. To date, we have planted the following tree species.
Our planters consist of a diverse community, ranging from farmers to monks to businessmen.
Experts guiding the way
We work with the Government of Bhutan, Bhutanese nonprofit organizations and local communities and individuals to plant the trees. We participate in transport of seedlings, digging of planting areas, planting of seedlings, and geocoding each sapling. Once complete, we hand ownership of the trees over to the respective party for whom we were planting.
The geocoding allows us to track the project performance and understand its benefits to the environment. We are teamed with EcoMatcher and use their application, TreeCorder , to register and monitor the growth pattern of every sapling that has been planted as well as the carbon sequestered by it. MyBhutan’s Sustainability Manager, Karma, is leading the initiative with local stewards to ensure that the saplings thrive. This is our contribution to keeping air in Bhutan the cleanest on our planet and demonstrating the value for the communities in protecting their environment.
In order to mitigate the failure of the tree-planting project, we work closely with various subject matter experts. The three known causes for failure of tree-plantings schemes are are 1) identifying inappropriate areas for forestation 2) planting non-native seeds and saplings that disrupt the natural ecosystem, and 3) insufficient attention and aftercare. Our partners at the government agency, Green Bhutan Corporation Limited, have identified which native trees to plant, as well as identified the areas that need reforestation. In addition to our reforestation efforts, we work with representatives from His Majesty’s Office and local government officials to identify the monastic lands and rural communities that benefit from fruit-bearing trees.
Join us in our mission
Growing our forests and communities
Tourism is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions, and transport-related emissions from tourism represents 5% of all man-made emissions. While we have implemented various policies to decrease the impact of carbon emissions associated with our travel programs (like not using single-use plastics, running our campsite with 100% renewable energy, and adhering to a strict Leave No Trace policy), our tree planting initiative allows for us to completely offset our footprint. By averaging 800 trees planted per week, all of our guests become carbon negative travelers. There are few, if any, travel operations that have succeeded in reaching this goal.
In Buddhism, a tree symbolizes the journey that a human seeks towards enlightenment. MyBhutan's journey begins by reforesting our land and demonstrating the community value of living harmoniously with our surroundings. We welcome our travelers to join Sonam Phuntsho (Bhutan’s Tree Warrior) and the rest of our planting team while in Bhutan. Email us at email@example.com if you would like to participate in this initiative while in country.
Would you like to support this cause? Contact us.
In 2022, MyBhutan became fully carbon negative. We offset more than 100% of the emissions from our land-based operations, employee travel, and offices in Bhutan and the US, among other emission contributors.
Our other projects
All of our nonprofit projects have a deep commitment to local development and sustainability. Learn about our other projects here.