Community based natural resources management programs in protected areas of Bhutan: A case study on park festivals

Dawa Yoezer, Sangay Wangchuk

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Bhutan has a successful story of being able to integrate conservation with development and this maybe attributed to the unique conservation philosophy of giving equal importance to wildlife conservation and community livelihoods. In order to promote community conservation programs, the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) initiated Integrated Conservation Development Program (ICDP).
DoFPS initiated various ICDPs and one of these is institution of the park festivals. Park festival is anannual event organized by some national parks in the country to promote community participation in conservation and to improve rural livelihood through promoting ecotourism and marketing of community products. This far, six different festivals were being organized by various DoFPS offices in the country: mushroom festival; Bhutan bird festival; Jomolhari mountain festival; nomads festival; Takin festival and rhododendron festival. Mushroom festival was first of its kind, which began in the year 2008 and organization of Takin festival was discontinued from 2014.
Though there are no exhaustive records on the benefit of festivals to communities; we found that the tangible returns from such festivals are minimal or negligible from whatever data we obtained. The only economic benefits may be accrued from the sale of local products and catering services. The records from the Bhutan bird festival shows return of only about 19 % of the total festival expenditure to the communities. Wangchuck Centennial National Park attempted to collect fees and donations once with the objective to help sustain nomads festival, however this initiative generated only about 2 % of the total budget spent on conducting the festival.
There may not be any notable benefits in terms of marketing local products through ecotourism as; only 170 tourists most likely visited either of the festivals in 2015 of the total 155,121 tourist visits. The Bhutan Bird festival which targeted to bring in bird lovers from across the globe could just get 4 tourists.
Since communities are reluctant to participate in such festivals without any financial incentives, they are paid daily wages to contribute labour and services while organizing the festival. The need of providing daily wages for every community participants and the fact that the daily wages are now revised will have even greater implication on cost efficiency and sustainability. To add to these costs, we also found that even the participation from government agencies for the festivals are mostly incentivized to encourage participation. Owing to these reasons, the sustainability of the festival remains questionable, and the fact that it’s organization is hugely dependent on the availability of grants from donor agences does not help either. The average costs incurred to organize festival calculates to about Nu. 1.5 million.
Considering the difficulty in instituting self-sustaining process to organize festivals, we believe that park festivals needs to be planned and organized strategically. We suggest that the park festival be organized indifferent locations within the parks but not annually and to have dedicated festival dates so that it reaches wider audience through the Tourism Council of Bhutan. We also suggest on not conceptualizing any new festivals until existing festivals become self sustainable.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLamai Goempa, Bumthang
PublisherUgyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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