Australia is a modest but well regarded donor to Bhutan. Education will remain the central pillar of the bilateral aid program. The overarching goal of the Australian aid program to Bhutan is to build the capacity of individuals and institutions, underpinned by gender equality principles. Two objectives support this goal:
- Building human capacity through the provision of scholarships for tertiary education (Australia Awards and Endeavour Awards)
- Building institutional capacity through linkages with Australian institutions (public sector and civil society)
Australia’s work in the education sector contributes towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 4 – Quality Education, SDG 5 – Gender Equality and SDG 6 – Sustainable Economic Growth.
—Aid Factsheet Bhutan (DFAT)
Bhutan is a landlocked mountainous country bordered on the north by China and on all other sides by India. The remote kingdom only began to open up to outsiders in the 1970s. About half of the country’s people live in remote areas, and almost two-thirds are rural inhabitants. Bhutan ranks 132 out of 188 countries in terms of the Human Development Index 2016.
Bhutan’s economy is growing quickly. It has one of the lowest poverty rates and one of the highest Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in South Asia. More rural dwellers are poorer than urban dwellers, at 19% compared to less than 2%.
Bhutan is consolidating its newly established democracy after its transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in 2008. As it broadens its economic base, developing human resources will become increasingly important.
The guiding principle of Bhutan’s economic development is gross national happiness (GNH) rather than gross domestic product. The four pillars of GNH are:
- Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development
- Conservation of the environment
- Preservation and promotion of culture
- Good governance
All government programs are assessed against the GNH framework, to ensure sustainable, holistic development.
India is Bhutan’s main trade, investment and development assistance partner, and Bhutanese products enjoy free access to the large Indian market. Agriculture and forestry dominate Bhutan’s domestic economy.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ goal for the 11th five year plan (2013–2018) is to achieve a green economic growth, inclusive social development, alleviate poverty, and sustainably manage and use natural resources in a climate-smart way. It plans to do so through:
- enhancing food and nutrition security
- creating more jobs to increase mean annual rural household cash income
- growing the renewable natural resources (RNR) sector through commercial farming, conserving plant and animal genetic resources, and natural,
- sustainably managing land and biodiversity resources
- making RNR service delivery more efficient and effective.
Bhutan 2020, the country’s vision statement and long-term strategy document, states that the vision can only be attained if women have equitable access to self-realisation and development benefits, and can make decisions. The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) has directed all policy proponents to include women when designing policy. The eleventh five-year plan encourages agricultural co-operatives that empower women and create jobs and entrepreneurships for them. Agriculture training locations should be decentralised so women can participate.
Australia’s support to Bhutan focuses on developing human resource capacity and strengthening tertiary institutions. Australia provides scholarships for Bhutanese to study in Australia, particularly in government.
The ACIAR program will remain small. Bhutan has limited capacity for agricultural research, and several large donors fund agricultural development and compete for Bhutanese Government and commercial resource support.
The Bhutanese Government identified these priorities for collaborative programs:
- Managing crop irrigation
- Integrated crop management (ICM) of horticultural crops
- Developing the dairy sector.