Bhutan is no ordinary place.
A landlocked Himalayan kingdom tucked in a mostly rugged mountainous terrain between India and China, it measures prosperity by assessing its citizens’ level of happiness by way of a Gross National Happiness index.
Bhutan’s geography – with land rises ranging from 200 meters in the southern foothills to 7,000 meters in the high northern mountains – consists of three major agro-ecological zones that allow for a rich biodiversity and seasonal foods.
This natural wealth, however, comes with its caveats as
"Many families in rural Bhutan practice two meals rather than three meals a day," reports Ms. Kinley Bidha, Tarayana Foundation Field Officer in Samtse Dzongkhag. "Some for cultural reasons, others due to a shortage of food, others due to a shortage of land too farm," she adds.
– the country’s infant mortality rate declined to 30 per 1,000 live births in 2012 down from 90 per 1,000 in 1990; while the rate of stunting in children under 5 years declined 24 percent from 1986 levels.
Nonetheless, the lack of variety of foods in diet remains a key concern, especially for pregnant and nursing women as well as young children. And while most families feed their children complementary food, fewer than a quarter of parents provide them nutritious meals essential to their health.
In addition, 67 percent of Bhutanese adults consume less than the recommended five servings (or 400 grams) of fruits and/or vegetables per person a day [National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2015].
When consumed, vegetables consist for the most part of two national staples, potatoes and chilies, which hardly provide essential vitamins and minerals.
Keeping regional variations in mind, between 16 and 34 percent of children under 5 are stunted—or too short for their age—seven percent of children are underweight, 35 percent of children of age 6-59 months and 44 percent of women of reproductive age are either anemic or iron deficient. Exclusive breastfeeding rates for six-month-old children remain at a low 50 percent (NNS, 2015).
, and predispose to adult-onset diseases (including metabolic syndrome).
Thankfully, to promote its national development.
Bhutan is no ordinary place.
Across South Asia, women represent a hugely underutilized source of growth. In fact, the
One such area is regional trade and connectivity. After a long hiatus, the political momentum for cooperation within the eastern region is growing, especially in the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) corridor. The Indian government’s Act East Policy, combined with the new Motor Vehicles Act that allows vehicles to cross the BBIN border with ease, represent a unique opportunity to reimagine inclusive growth by enabling more of the region’s women to benefit from this corridor.
Accordingly, the South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP), an Australian government-funded program being implemented by the World Bank, seeks to improve the conditions for women to trade between these nations and to create more remunerative livelihoods.
The regional project assisted the governments in building and enhancing shared capacity and institutions to tackle illegal wildlife trade across their borders and invest in habitat and wildlife conservation of critically endangered species. It was clear from the onset that these issues would require both national leadership and regional coordination.
Launched in 2011, the project initially had a delayed start. Yet, by December 2016, when the project ended, it became clear that governments coordinated efforts successfully. The three countries participated in regular joint action planning and practice-sharing meetings, signed protocols for and cooperated in transboundary actions, as well as held consultations and public events at the local, national, and international levels.
“With the momentum built up, the stage set, with a banner that in all its glory was decorated with the flags of the seven South Asian states, we sat in our respective country groups to embark on a three-day long journey that was to change my perception of South Asia forever. The dis-embarkment on this passage saw us divided by geographical boundaries, as India and Pakistan made sure to sit the farthest away from each other. The end to this voyage, however, painted a story not many foresaw – " – Alizeh Arif, Lahore School of Economics
Bhutan is a small country nestled in the eastern Himalayas between China and India, has managed to maintain its rich and unique cultural heritage in this modern-day age, partly due to its relative isolation during much of the last century. Bhutan is one of the smallest but fastest-growing economies in the world and a success story in poverty reduction.
There has also been an increasing representation of girls at the higher secondary level although the lag continues at the university level.
Gender gaps in labor markets and job quality was identified as one of the main areas of gender gaps in the 2013 World Bank Gender Note Policy. Although tremendous progress has been made, - 58% of Bhutanese women working for pay or looking for jobs - the female labor force participation saw a slight decline compared to men in 2016. It remains one of the highest in the region.
South Asia has enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent a year over the past 20 years. This has translated into declining poverty and improvements in health and education. While worthy of celebration as we mark International Women's Day, the success could have been more dramatic if more women worked for pay.
With the largest working-age population and growing middle class, South Asia’s development potential is vast. But the lack of women in employment and economic participation reflects lost potential. In India and Sri Lanka, tens of millions of women have dropped out of the work force over the last twenty years.
Many factors are holding them back. Almost half of South Asia’s adult women are illiterate and its girls suffer from the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Rates of violence against women and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world. All these factors translate into a labor market characterized by low participation, high unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.
What can be done to better prepare and encourage women to participate in the work force? It starts with valuing our daughters as much as our sons – providing them with the same access to nutritious foods and investing in their education for them to reach their potential. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.
Remote Rural Communities Development Project (RRCDP), he and his family have benefitted from the construction of a new farm road and protection from landslides through RRCDP support – a project that promotes the increasing of agricultural productivity and development of communities’ access to markets, irrigation, agricultural technologies, and community infrastructure in 26 Gewogs (village groups) under six Dzongkhags (districts) in Bhutan: Chhukha, Dagana, Haa, Samtse, Trongsa, and Wanduephodrang.
Driving Prosperity through Access to Rural Roads
Coming to completion in May 2018, RRCDP has improved road access to markets to at least 11 project Chiwogs (hamlets) in Samtse and Trongsa Dzongkhags – building 22.9 kilometers of farm roads and benefitting about 299 households. With the construction of new farm roads, the most commonly marketed agricultural and livestock products amongst farmers in project areas have been cardamom, vegetables, butter, cheese, and citrus, and to a lesser extent, rice, potatoes, and eggs. Additionally, beneficiaries have also reported a significant reduction in the time of travel between their households and markets – up to 8 hours in some cases! The majority of the Bhutanese population live in remote rural areas – hours, sometimes days of walking from the nearest road. They walk their children through dense forests and rivers to reach schools and health clinics; they carry their agricultural and livestock products to nearby markets on their backs – an average load of 30kg. A horse carrying a 50kg load costs approximately Nu.5 per kilogram.
Now, with road accessibility, farmers use pick-up trucks at the cost of Nu.2 per kilogram. After a RRCDP farm road construction in Samtse, for example, four households bought pick-up trucks and ten individuals bought motorcycles – mainly benefitting the transport of cardamom. Better road accessibility through RRCDP have also fostered the construction of concrete flush toilets outside households and the construction of new concrete-built homes, as well as the expansion of irrigation schemes. Finally, road accessibility has also impacted social dynamics in rural areas benefitted by the project. 
The project has also supported beneficiaries in 88 Chiwogs with access to community and marketing infrastructure, such as power tiller tracks, power tiller machinery, and food bridges – with a total of 3,597 households benefitted. In Norgaygang Gewog, for example, with support from the project, the construction of 4 kilometers of power tiller track in 2016, has brought multiple benefits to the community, such as easier access to schools and healthcare in case of emergency.
The Asia-Pacific region, comprised of 58 economies, is geographically expansive and a picture of diversity. The trends for sustainable energy in Asia-Pacific, which mirror the region’s economic and resource diversity, are underscored by the fact that . The region’s sustainable energy picture is captured in a new report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), entitled “Asia-Pacific Progress in Sustainable Energy: A Global Tracking Framework 2017 Regional Assessment Report.” The report is based on the World Bank and International Energy Agency’s Global Tracking Framework (GTF), which tracks the progress of countries on energy access, energy efficiency, and renewable energy under Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7).
Four overarching sustainable energy themes emerge from the report:
Bhutan is a challenging environment in which to develop commercial agriculture. The country has limited areas for agriculture, and its geography and road conditions make logistics and market access costly.
Therefore, commercial agriculture is critical to increase productivity, which will help create jobs and access to more and better food. This can be achieved not only through focusing on high-value products and investing in traditional infrastructure such as irrigation, but also through using information and communication technology (ICT). Based in eastern Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts has developed innovative uses of ICT for its commercial agriculture operations.
According to a recent study published in Science Advances, climate change is projected to hit South Asia especially hard.
Impacts will be particularly intense in the food and agriculture sector. A region inhabited by about one-fifth of the world’s people, South Asia and its densely populated agricultural areas face unique and severe natural hazards. Its food system is particularly vulnerable. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA)-- which is an integrated approach to managing landscapes that is focused on increasing agricultural productivity, improving resilience to climate change, and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions—is part of the solution.
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread. We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice. Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines. As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.”
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.