STORIES: Seed storage of wild plants of Bhutan at Baekdudaegan Seed Vault

Article contributed by Mr. Kencho Rigzin from Bhutan, a participant of the 2019 AFoCO Science and Technology Partnership (STEP) Program

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country with an area of 38,394 situated on the southern slope of the Eastern Himalayas, bordering China to its North and India to its south, east, and west. The country is almost entirely mountainous with altitudes ranging from 150 to 7,500m (above sea level), within a short south-north distance of 170km.

Bhutan’s current status of conservation and biodiversity is a result of the far-sighted vision and leadership of our Kings and our rich tradition of living in harmony with nature throughout the centuries. This has been further strengthened through the formal adoption of the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which categorically states environmental conservation as one of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness. This effectively ensures that development is never achieved at the cost of the environment.

The Forest Act of Bhutan 1969 was the first modern Act to be enacted by the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), which stipulated the requirement for the maintenance of a minimum of 60 percent of the total land area under forest cover for all time. This was further enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan enacted in 2008. Currently, the country has 71 percent of the total area under forest cover1 (FFF 2018) and 51.44 percent of the total area secured as protected areas and biological corridors.

Forests constitute the dominant ecosystem in Bhutan, with 71 percent (FFF, 2018) of the country under forest cover. Further, as a result of variance in the altitudinal range, with corresponding variation in climatic conditions, the country supports a wide range of forest types and vegetation zones. Today, while the other nations boast of its economic growth, the country boasts to the outside world for keeping intact its rich floral and faunal diversities through various protection measures. Thus, today there are more than 5600 vascular plants, 411 Ferns and their allies, 145 Endemic plants, 282 Bryophytes, 350 Fungus, less than 100 Insect-Fungi, 287 Lichen and Lichenicolous, 46 Rhododendron and 469 orchid species which need conservation (FFF, 2018).

But threats to biological resources are endless. Today, we face threats in the form of direct pressures like land-use conversion, forest fire, over-extraction of timber and fuelwood, overgrazing, unsustainable agricultural practices, threats from invasive species and indirect pressures such as climate change, unsustainable harvesting of plant genetic resources leading to extinction (NWFP) and population pressures.

One of the most important and interesting activity which I thoroughly enjoyed was learning about the Baekdudaegan Global Seed Vault. Since BDGSV being one of the only kind which serves both as Seed Bank and Seed Vault in the world, I believe that storing seeds in BDGSV would be a win-win situation for both the organizations when we talk about future conservation and preservation of our plant genetic resources. The way forward to achieve the conservation of plant genetic resources would be through depositing it in Baekdudaegan Global seed vault through signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Biodiversity Centre of Bhutan and the Baekdudaegan Global Seed Vault. Since BDNA being a competent authority in seed conservation for the long term and through its clearly defined seed deposition process, it makes the job easier for the depositing institute to approach and store seeds.  

There are also some important learning and exposures for the trainees of the STEP program at BDNA. Most importantly, the introduction to the Seed Vault comes first in my list while the Visitor Center with its well-defined and meticulously implemented theme gardens comes second. Nursery operations and technology which the BDNA uses currently are fascinating while Tissue culture techniques and plant propagation are also impressive at the same time.

Collecting seeds with BDNA experts

However, one cannot deny the fact that the Arboretum is an exemplary to conservationist and nature enthusiast.  All the other learning facilities which I have described above is well nestled within the premises of an Arboretum which makes learning very effective.  Overall, the institution itself is well equipped with world-class facilities and performances and achievements of the institution are well noticeable as one step in and learn from the highly qualified officers of the institute.

Last but certainly not the least, I would like convey my sincere thanks to the Executive Director sir of the AFoCO, Director General Sir and its passionate core team for providing us the opportunity and support during entire duration of this STEP program 2019 and also the Director-General of the BDNA and all the associated staffs for helping us expand our knowledge and technical skills. Thank You and Tashi Delek!