buthanBhutan is a tiny, landlocked South Asian country located between China and India, at the eastern end of the Himalayas. Its population is about 740,000, and the name of the capital is Thimphu. This is most probably the only country in the world, which follows Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of the universally followed Gross National Product (GNP) as a tool to measure a country’s progress. Bhutan is administratively divided into 20 districts (Dzongkhags). There are also urban municipalities (thromdes) and village blocks (geogs). The country’s economy is built around agriculture, forestry, tourism, and the export of hydroelectric power to the neighboring India.



The country has a rugged topography, with steep slopes. Its southern region is a subtropical plain while the northern region has very high mountains. About 70% of the land area is covered by forests, and more than 79% of the population lives on subsistence agriculture. Most of the farmers have an average landholding of about 1.3 hectares that is uneven and full of steep slopes. Farming in Bhutan depends on rain and is labor intensive. Main crops are paddy, wheat, maize, buckwheat, potatoes and barley. Rearing of cattle is  also common. In recent years, Bhutan has gained fame for its passion for and commitment to organic farming.

Key Statistics and Indicators




Agricultural land (sq km)

Agricultural land (% of land area)

Arable land (hectares)

Arable land (% of land area)

Arable land (hectares per person)











Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)



Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)

Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)

Food exports (% of merchandise exports)

Food imports (% of merchandise imports)









GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)



Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)

Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)

Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)

Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)

Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)











Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)

Internet users (per 100 people)





Population, total

Population density (people per sq. km of land area)

Rural population

Rural population (% of total population)

Agricultural population (% of total population)*

Total economically active population

Total economically active population in agriculture*

Total economically active population in agriculture (in %

    of total economically active population)

Female economically active population in agriculture (% of

     total economically active population in agriculture)*















Sources: The World Bank; *Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations  FAO


History of extension and the enabling environment

The history of agricultural extension in Bhutan is embedded with the launching of Five-Year Plans (FYP) for development over the years. The First FYP (1961-1965) focused on creating basic infrastructure and institutions for agriculture and animal husbandry. A Department of Agriculture was established, which set up several model agricultural farms, seed multiplication farms, research stations, and field extension activities. A Department of Animal Husbandry was also established along with many livestock and sheep breeding farms. The Department of Forest, established earlier in 1952, became active in forest conservation.

The Second FYP (1965-1970) mostly consolidated and expanded the activities started by the Departments of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. For the very first time, a number of students were trained as Veterinary Assistants.  During the Third FYP (1970-1976), a national agricultural development program was initiated. The main role of extension worker was that of a supplier of fertilizers and farm machinery to the farmers, accompanied by very little, if any, technical advice.

The Fourth FYP (1976-1981) expanded the role of the extension workers. They were now responsible for supplying fertilizers, fruit plants, improved seeds, provision of plant protection service, development of manure, farm mechanization, dissemination of food and agricultural methods, and high-altitude agricultural development.  During the Fifth FYP (1981-1987), agricultural extension was decentralized to the dzongkhags, which also managed farms and regional centers. Almost all geogs were staffed with a “skilled field man”. The District Agriculture Officers were appointed under the dzongkhags administration. The research centers worked on the adaptation of imported technologies, and potatoes were promoted as a cash crop.

As the implementation of the Sixth FYP (1987-1992) started, the decentralization of some of the farms was reversed in view of too many responsibilities of the dzongkhags. Several donor- funded Area Development Programs were started mainly for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. The delivery of inputs was privatized for the very first time. The responsibility of distributing credit was also taken away from the extension staff. In spite of these measures, the extension workers continued the sale and distribution of improved animal breeds to the farmers.

The Seventh FYP (1992-1997) introduced an integrated approach to agricultural development, based on the “renewable natural resources” (RNR) concept of the Ministry of Agriculture. This led the merger of the Ministry’s three departments of agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry. The implementation of the integrated approach brought further decentralization of extension to the geogs level. In addition, two major developments took place; first, the establishment of the Natural Resources Training Institute (NRTI), and the second, the formulation of a national extension policy for the RNR sector (which is still awaiting finalization).

Both agricultural research and extension received most attention during the Eighth FYP (1997-2002). Four RNR Research Centers became fully operational. NRTI graduates joined the extension system and the RNR research centers became more sensitive to the extension needs of farmers. Integrated annual RNR regional planning became the norm. The RNR Extension Support Project was operated by the Department of Research and Development Services. The visibility of qualified extension staff increased in the dzongkhags with the placement of dzongkhags RNR Coordinators.

During the course of the Ninth FYP (2002-2008), while RNR research services were to continue identifying and generating appropriate technologies, the efficiency and effectiveness of technology dissemination by the extension services were to be strengthened through the following eight measures:

  1. Focusing on location-specific programs and activities.
  2. Placement of staff with relevant professional background and experience.
  3. Improving the use of printed and audio-visual materials relevant to the clients and the medium available.
  4. Improving the back-up and supervision of extension agents by adequately competent supervisors.
  5. Continuous up-gradation of the knowledge and skills of RNR extension agents.
  6. Coordinated and packaged delivery of credit, inputs and technology.
  7. Issuing of technical and financial implementation manuals for each program.
  8. Improving backward and forward linkages between farmers, extension agents and the RNR research centers.

Some of the weaknesses in the agricultural extension services of Bhutan, identified by senior national officials are: low qualifications of the staff; a lack of authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests over field extension offices matters because of decentralization; confusion among extension staff due to diffusion of extension responsibilities and authority among several institutions in the absence of a dedicated agricultural extension institution; improper implementation of extension activities due to lack of coordination between national and decentralized government offices; inadequate extension equipment, audio-visual aids and printed publications at extension centers; negligible extension advice in marketing; isolation of extension from the farm-to-market chain; big farmers influencing extension staff work; insufficient coverage of farmers due to low number of extension staff; inadequate operational budget; and the rare in-service training of the staff.

Presently, as the implementation of the Tenth FYP (2008-2013) is nearing its end, the agricultural extension services in Bhutan are fully decentralized. The central departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests are responsible for just technical backstopping. Central programs of the national level departments include the provision of inputs and technical guidance to the extension staff based in dzongkhags.

Many multi-lateral donors have provided financial and technical assistance to Bhutan. Some of them are: Asian Development Bank (Green Power Development Project), World Bank, European Union (Wang Watershed Management Project; Medicinal Plants Project; Livestock Sector Support; Agriculture Sector Support), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP), and World Health Organization (WHO). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has operated dozens of agricultural and rural development projects in Bhutan since 1981. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has financed both phases of the Eastern Zone Agricultural Project. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has also provided bilateral assistance (i.e. Agricultural Research and Extension Support Project in Lhuentse and Mongar).

Extension Providers

Major institutions providing extension/advisory services

Public Institutions

Ministry of Agriculture and Forests 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests has responsibility for policy and technical guidance in the public extension service. The Department of Agriculture has the mandate of agricultural extension in addition to other responsibilities. Specific extension related functions carried out at the national level are as follows:

  • RNR extension policy formulation.
  • Development and management of national RNR extension program.
  • Technical support to geog and dzongkhag programs.
  • Human resources development of extension staff.
  • Preparation of RNR extension publications and their dissemination.
  • Provision of subject-matter specialists
  • Support in the geog and dzongkhag level planning

Extension Coordination Committee
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests has an inter-sector Extension Coordination Committee (ECC) that facilitates coordination and integration among extension related departments and agencies. ECC is organizationally based with the Council for RNR Research of Bhutan. The functions of ECC are as follows:

  • Review and develop extension policy framework (e.g. strategy, approaches and methodologies) to generate input for policy decisions.
  • Ensure coordination on crosscutting extension themes, (e.g. extension guidelines and approaches), social science and management related training and recommend working modalities.
  • Identify various extension issues among various agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and beyond.
  • Promote and represent Ministry of Agriculture and Forests on forums such as conferences and seminars on cross-cutting themes, policies and strategies.
  • Review and propose innovative integrated extension approaches to be adopted.
  • Strengthen linkages between research and extension.

Regional, dzongkhag and geog level extension offices:

As extension services are fully decentralized, the authority for planning and delivery of extension services, including financial matters, lies with regional, dzongkhag and geog level managers and field-level workers.

  • The regional offices provide assistance as subject-matter specialists; provide support in the geog and dzongkhag level planning; develop technology for dissemination; and ensure regional coordination.
  • The dzongkhag administration supports planning and implementation of RNR development activities; provides technical support; maintains vertical and horizontal communication linkages; does dzongkhag level programming; monitors and reports on RNR extension program; and coordinates research trials.
  • The geog administration’s extension related tasks include: support to dzongkhag to plan and implement RNR development activities; provide technical support to implement RNR activities; coordinate and implement research trials; monitoring and reporting of RNR extension programs, and data collection; organize training, demonstrations, and study tours for the farmers.

The field level staff works with farmers’ groups, households, and individual farmers.

According to a 2011 report, there are over 500 extension staff members engaged in livestock, agriculture, forestry and marketing related extension tasks in all 20 dzongkhags and 205 geogs.  Each RNR Extension Center has one staff each for livestock, agriculture and forestry extension activities. Each of these three sectors is supervised by its relevant dzongkhag officer, with the livestock sector having additional staff, depending on local conditions, to cover veterinary hospital, artificial insemination and fishery activities.  

Non-Public Institutions

Private sector

The private sector is slowly emerging in the areas of agricultural inputs supply and contract farming, the latter being an innovation in Bhutan. Names of a few companies that have entered agricultural operations are as follows:

  • Mountain Hazelnut Venture (MHV): Established in 2009; invests in hazelnut production, and provides seedlings to contracted growers.
  • Bio-Bhutan: Established in 2005; markets lemon grass, and also handles honey, spices and tea; develops, manufactures and markets natural and organic certified products from Bhutan.
  • Bhutan Alpine Seed: Located in Bondey (Paro); presently engaged in the production of vegetable seeds.
  • Karma Feeds: Located near Phuentsholing (Pasakha); deals in animal feed.

There is no private company that provides extension advice to farmers. When commercial companies expand in future, they may advise the farmers about using their products.

Non-governmental organizations

Names of a few NGOs engaged in at least some agricultural or rural development type of work, are mentioned below:

None of the NGO in Bhutan is yet actively involved in agricultural extension work for farmers.

Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies

There are about 754 informal farmers’ groups scattered throughout the country. However, Bhutan does not yet have many active, formal farmers’ associations. Daga Shingdrey Pshogpa Farmers Association has 103 members, and envisages a 100 percent organic farming in Bhutan.

The Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, established in 2009, is responsible for the development of agricultural cooperatives. The Department has prepared a master plan for capacity building of farmer groups and cooperatives, with the assistance of SNV. The cooperative rules and regulations of Bhutan were prepared in 2010. Some of the cooperatives in Bhutan are as follows:

  • Happy Green Cooperative: (a youth-led cooperative, registered in 2009; activities include organic farming; organic food and catering services; fresh organic farm produce; happy food processing unit; and happy green infotainment.
  • Dairy Cooperatives (reported in 2010): Chokhor Gonor Gongphel Chithuen Tsogpa (established in 1993; 50 members); Chumey Gonor Lhothuen Tshopa (established in 2008; 30 members); Tang Community Welfare Association Dairy Farm (established in 1998; 244 members)

No information is available on extension activities of any cooperative in Bhutan.

List of Extension Providers

icon target The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Argentina. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.


Training options for extension professionals

The only academic institution in Bhutan where pre-service education in agricultural subjects may be pursued is the College of Natural Resources (CNR). The CNR, located in Lobesa, Punakha District, is basically an agricultural college, affiliate of the Royal University of Bhutan. It was originally established in 1992 as the Natural Resources Training Institute under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. The College continues the old practice of offering diplomas, but has also started B.Sc. degree program in the disciplines of agriculture, animal science and forestry in 2010. In 2012, a B.Sc. degree program in sustainable development was also started.

At this moment, there are no significant agricultural training institutions in Bhutan other than the College of Natural Resources. In-service training of extension professionals in technical subject-matter may be arranged on ad hoc basis in collaboration with the Council for Renewable Natural Resources Research of Bhutan (CoRRB) at any of its research centers located in various districts.  If funds are available, short-term training may be received in the neighboring India or China.


Info-mediaries and information and communication technology (ict) for agriculture and extension

The Ministry of Information and Communications is responsible for all ICT matters in Bhutan.  According to the World Bank, in 2011, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Bhutan was 65.58. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 21.

The ICT sector in Bhutan is not that well developed. However, the government has introduced ICT use in the form of distance education, and establishment of several Community Information Centers (CICs) to provide sustainable, commercially viable ICT services in rural areas. Presently, there is no evidence of ICT use in agricultural extension. It is expected that the CICs will be involved in extension support activities in future.


Resources and references

Acharya, T. .2011. Agriculture Extension Services in Bhutan: Present Status and Suggested Reforms. Council for RNR Research of Bhutan

Christensen, G., T. Fileccia, and A. Gulliver. 2011. Bhutan: Agricultural Sector Review. Volume 2: Working Papers. Rome: FAO Investment Center, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives. 2010. The Cooperative Rules and Regulations of Bhutan, 2010. Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Royal Government of Bhutan

FAO Representation in Bhutan. 2011. Bhutan and FAO: Achievements and Success Stories

Gross National Happiness Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan .2008. Tenth Five Year Plan 2008-2013; Volume 2: Program Profile

Jamtsho, S. and M. Bullen .2007. Distance education in Bhutan: Improving access and quality through ICT use. Distance Education , Vol. 28, No. 2, August 2007, Pp. 149-161

Rigyal, S. and C. Wongsamun.2011. Perceived professional competency level and job performance of block-level extension agents in Bhutan. JIAEE, Volume 18, Number 1, 2011

Samdup, T. and K. Pradhan.2011. National Agricultural Extension System in Bhutan: An Analysis. Thimphu: Council for RNR Research of Bhutan, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests

Sherpa, D. 2010. Dairy Co-operatives in Bhutan: Understanding Potentials towards Co-operative Chain Development. Unpublished Master’s Thesis; University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Sonam, T. and N. Martwanna.2012. Smallholder dairy farmers’ group development in Bhutan: Strengthening rural communities through group mobilization. IAMURE: International Journal of Business and Management, Vol. 2 No. 1 March 2012, Pp. 154-174

Tobgay, S. 2005. Small Farmers and the Food System in Bhutan. Paper presented at the FAO Symposium on Agricultural Commercialization and the Small Farmer, held at Rome; 4-5 May 2005

Wangchuk, K.G. 2001. Country Paper of Bhutan, presented at the APO Seminar on Strengthening Agricultural Support Services for Small Farmers, held in Japan, 4-11 July 2001. In Rita Sharma (ed.) (2004). Strengthening Agricultural Support Services for Small Farmers. Tokyo: Asian Productivity Organization

Wissink, T. 2004. The Impact of Trade Liberalization on Agriculture in Bhutan. Paper prepared for the 18th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies, 6-9 July 2004

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