Bhutan is a country located in South Asia and rich in natural resources. Bhutan is officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan. The country has a total area of about 14,824 square miles and a total population of around 797,765 people, with a 2.9% annual growth. Bhutan is a kingdom ruled by a hereditary king. And the majority of the Bhutanese are Buddhists, and Buddhism is supported by the state.
Bhutanese mostly live in about 1,000 villages organized into 20 districts and 197 blocks. The terrain is among the most rugged and mountainous in the world. The climate is extremely varied, ranging from sub-tropical in the lower southern foothills to temperate. The country has one of the smallest economies on the planet, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of only $2.085 billion.
The country has a basic need-based economy with a predominance of agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry. As the case may be with some other countries of the world, natural resources play a crucial part in driving the economy of Bhutan. The country has a number of natural resources, with the predominant ones being minerals such as sandstones, dolomite, marble, land for agriculture, forest cover, and tourist attractions.
10 Natural Resources in Bhutan
1. Land Resources
Land resources play a crucial role in the economy of the country since agriculture is a major sector of the economy. In the past, agriculture was actually the biggest contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. For example, in 1985, the sector contributed about 55% of Bhutan’s GDP. In recent years, however, the contribution has gone down to only 33% in 2003.
Despite the drop, agriculture is still a crucial sector of the economy since it provides a source of livelihood to about 80% of Bhutan’s population. Women are more involved in agriculture, with 95% of the nation’s wage earners working in the sector.
Bhutan is known for the production of two major crops, namely rice and maize. Of the two, maize makes up a larger portion of the nation’s cereal production (49%), while rice makes up 43%. Despite having a slightly lower production, rice is the staple crop of Bhutan.
Other crops that the country grows include wheat, barley, oil seeds, and vegetables. Some of the challenges facing the sector include poor soil quality in some areas and irrigation challenges.
Uses of Land Resources
- The land resource is used for agricultural purposes growing crops and livestock farming.
- It provides a place for relaxation and tourist visitation
- It is used for human settlements, commerce, and economic activities.
2. Forest Resources
Forest cover and natural vegetation have proven to be some of the most valuable resources of Bhutan in the 20th century. The extensive vegetation cover is because of the country’s location in the eastern region of the Himalayas, which is an area that receives high amounts of rain. The forests are composed of both evergreen and deciduous trees.
The conservation of these forests is largely attributed to the small population of the country and the low levels of development. In addition, the rugged terrain of the country in most forested places makes it difficult to exploit the land. Established back in 1952, the Department of Forests and Park Services oversees the exploitation of this resource.
As of 1981, estimates place the forest cover of Bhutan at between 70 and 74% of the country’s total area. However, the forest cover went down vastly in 1991, as estimates placed the cover at between 60% and 64% of the country’s area.
Other estimates placed the cover at closer to 50%. Regardless of the correct estimate, the forest industry generated around 15% of Bhutan’s GDP in the early stages of the 1990s. Most of the wood (80%) is for commercial use while the remainder is for other uses.
Bhutan ranks in the top ten percent of the world’s countries with the greatest species diversity (species richness per unit area). It has the highest percentage of land under protected areas and the greatest proportion of forest cover compared to any Asian country.
Many ecologists believe that Bhutan represents the last best chance for the conservation of biodiversity in the Eastern Himalayas, a region of critical importance. Bhutan has another distinction among developing countries in that it has allocated 26.3 percent of its geographical area to 5 national parks and 4 wildlife sanctuaries, even while using loans to augment its financial resources for development.
Uses of Forest Resources
- The surrounding forest in Bhutan is used to fabricate the tools needed in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and livestock production
- The forest serves as a tourist attraction for visitors in the country.
- Fuel wood for the rural population which is a major source of energy for their cooking and heating process
- Timber gotten from the forest is used for several construction activities.
- The leaves and the bark of the forest trees serve a medicinal purpose for the population.
3. Water Resources
Freshwater in Bhutan is sourced mostly from glacial lakes, glaciers, wetlands, and monsoon rain. The steep mountains in the north reach elevations of up to 7500 m and the elevations are down to 100 m in the south of the country. This forms deep valleys that are divided by 4 major rivers: Amochhu, Wangchhu, Punatsangchhu, and Manas.
These rivers carve and shape the country’s topography and provide water for various purposes. Bhutan has plenty of water resources and suitable terrain for the production of hydropower. For this reason, the government came up with the Five-Year Plans for the production of vast amounts of hydroelectric power.
Before the construction of the Tala plant, the Chukha plant was the country’s major generator of income. The income was being generated through the export of electricity to parts of India such as West Bengal, Sikkim, Bihar, and others. Under the operation of Druk Green, the Chukha plant generated more than 30% of the country’s revenue between 2005 and 2006.
Uses of Water Resources
- It is used for Hydro-power Generation. Some of the major power projects in Bhutan include the Chukha Hydro-power Project, the Tala Hydropower Project, the Kurichhu Hydropower Project, and others. The Chukha hydro-power Project was the first major project in the country with its construction starting back in the 1970s
- It is used for domestic activities such as drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.
- It serves a purpose in their agricultural system as it is used for irrigation in agriculture.
- It serves as a source of food and employment for the locals.
- Various recreation and tourism activities take place in their water.
Coal is an abundant natural resource that can be used as a source of energy, and as a chemical source from which numerous synthetic compounds can be made. In Bhutan, too, coal was once used to produce vast amounts of energy for most of the population.
In the 1980s, the country managed to produce coal that was almost equal to 1,000,000 tons of fuel wood every year for domestic use only. The estimated coal reserves were around 1.3 million tons, although exploitation was not profitable due to the difficulty and low quality of the coast.
Uses of Coal
- Coal is a major source of energy in the production of electrical power using steam generation.
- Liquefaction of coal produces gaseous and liquid fuels that can easily be transported through pipelines and conveniently stored in tanks
- Some industries in Bhutan make use of coal in the production of numerous raw materials like benozle, coal tar, sulfate ammonia, creosote, etc.
- In the steel industry, coal is indirectly used to make steel.
Dolomite is a common rock-forming mineral that is rarely found in modern sedimentary environments. Dolomite is very similar to the mineral calcite. Calcite is composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
In Bhutan, the occurrence of huge dolomite deposits is well known within the Manas Formation of the Lesser Himalayan Sequence (LHS), which belongs to the Baxa Group of rocks. Dolomites are one of the important raw materials for iron and steel, ferroalloys, glass, alloy steels, the fertilizer industry, etc. Bhutan exports about ($10.9M) of dolomite exporting mostly to India, Italy, Turkey, Singapore, and Japan.
Uses of Dolomite
- It is used as a source of magnesium metal Magnesia (MgO) which is a constituent of refractory bricks.
- Dolostone is often used instead of limestone as an aggregate for both cement and bitumen mixes and also as a flux in blast furnaces.
- It is used as an ingredient in the production of glass, bricks, and ceramics.
- It serves as an oil and gas reservoir rock.
Sandstone is a rock composed mostly of minerals formed from sand. The stone gains its formation through centuries of deposits forming in lakes, rivers, or on the ocean floor. These elements group together with the minerals quartz or calcite and compress. In time, the sandstone is formed by the pressure of these minerals coming together.
It is a very common mineral and can be found all over the world. There are large deposits found in the United States, and South Africa (where eight different varieties of the stone can be found), and Germany holds the most locations of sandstone deposits in the world.
Australia, too has large deposits of sandstone. In South East Bhutan about 4000 m of well-bedded silts and sandstones of conglomerates are exposed representing, mostly the middle and upper Siwaliks, with the younger sections in the N abutting with a steep thrust the Permo-Carboniferous Belt.
Uses of Sandstone
- Sandstone serves as building sand which is seen in ancient houses
- It is used for artistic purposes to create ornamental fountains and statues
- It is a common paving material that is included in asphalt due to its strong resistance to weathering
Gypsum is a non-toxic material a very common sulfate which is consist of water, and calcium sulfate attached to oxygen. Bhutan has small gypsum deposits in the Kuru Chu spur and limestones in the foothills of the Himalayas, which are extracted locally for the cement industry. Coal seams, with 25 percent ash, are scattered throughout the Damudas region. The Tang-Chu area has high-quality Devonian slate used for roofing.
Uses of Gypsum
- Gypsum is used as a fluxing agent, fertilizer in agriculture, and filler in paper and textiles.
- About three-fourths of the total production is used in plaster of Paris (POP).
- Used in stilling water to separate water impurities.
Marble is composed of recrystallized carbonate, most commonly called calcite. It is a non-foliated metamorphic rock that appears in large deposits that can be hundreds of feet thick and geographically extensive.
Most marbles can be made into crushed stone or diminished stone. In Bhutan, the Paro marbles are widespread in the southwest, forming massifs, while leucogranites are common in dikes, sills, and plutons in the northeast. Tethys Ocean, Tethyan sediments outcrop along the Tibetan border of Bhutan.
Uses of Marble
- Marbles are used principally for buildings and monuments in architecture.
- For interior decorations
- Marbles can also be used for statutory, table tops, and novelties.
- It is in the production of pharmaceuticals.
Talc is a hydrous magnesium silicate mineral that is usually green, white, gray, brown, or colorless. It is a translucent natural resource with a pearly luster. It is the softest natural resource. Talc is the primary product of the country’s mining activities. Other minerals are extracted in smaller quantities.
Uses of Talc
- Talc is used as a lubricant, for leather dressings, toilets, and dusting powders.
- It is used as a filler in ceramics, paints, paper roofing materials, plastics, and rubber.
- It can be carved and used for ornamental and practical objects.
10. Iron Ore
This is a lustrous, ductile, malleable, silver-grey color most abundant natural resource in the universe. It is found in a major amount at the core of the earth in a molten form. The most abundant deposit is found in sedimentary rocks. In Bhutan, the mining of iron ore started when Dupthop visited Thangthong Gyelpo. Smelted iron ore was produced into iron chains, which even today are rust-free.
The revenue generated from mining as of 2012 is Nu.337.00 million. Bhutan today exports of ferrous products obtained by direct reduction of iron ore products to India is US$1.06 thousand according to United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.
Uses of Iron Ore
- It is used to make alloy steels like carbon steels with additives such as nickel, chromium, vanadium, tungsten, and manganese
- Iron ore is used to make bridges, electricity pylons, bicycle chains, cutting tools, automobiles, and rifle barrels.
- It is used as a beam in buildings.
Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, with minimal natural resources as a greater percentage of the land is covered by forest. that notwithstanding the country has gone vast in the utilization of the available resources to boost her economy.
As they are known to export Ferroalloys ($104M), Semi-Finished Iron ($24.4M), Cement ($13M), Dolomite ($10.9M), and Carbides ($5.24M), exporting mostly to India ($173M), Italy ($4.88M), Turkey ($856k), Singapore ($630k), and Japan ($542k)
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.