Bench-terracing [Bhutan]

Reporting Entity: Bhutan

Clarify if the technology described in the template, or a part of it, is covered by property rights: No

Completeness: 94%

General Information

General Information

Title of best practice:




Reporting Entity:


Property Rights

Clarify if the technology described in the template, or a part of it, is covered by property rights:



Prevailing land use in the specified location

  • Cropland
  • Woodland
  • Human settlement

Contribution to Desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) measures

  • Prevention
  • Mitigation

Contribution to the strategic objectives

  • To improve the living conditions of affected populations
  • To improve the conditions of affected ecosystems

Linkages with the other best practice themes

  • Capacity-building and awareness-raising
  • DLDD and SLM monitoring and assessment/research


Section 1. Context of the best practice: frame conditions (natural and human environment)

Short description of the best practice

Bench terracing is a soil conservation practice consisting of a series of level or nearly level strips running across a slope following the contour lines at certain vertical intervals. The level strips (terraces) supported by steep banks or risers made of earth or rocks, are used for cultivation. Terraces reduce both the amount and velocity of water moving over the soil surface, thereby reducing soil erosion.|


Nangkor gewog (Zhemgang district) and Phuentsholing gewog (Chhukha district).

If the location has well defined boundaries, specify its extension in hectares:


Estimated population living in the location:


Brief description of the natural environment within the specified location.

Nangkor gewog has subtropical to warm temperate climatic conditions with upper reaches being cool temperate. Phuentsholing gewog is subtropical with hot and humid conditions and very high rainfall averaging about 4,500 mm annually.|
Nangkor gewog is characterized by rugged terrain and steep slopes with pockets of gently sloping lands. The elevation varies from 280m in the south to as high as 4,600m asl. Phuentsholing gewog starts from the Great Indian Plains and foothills at about 180m and climbs upto 2,400m asl at the highest point. However, much of the human activity and settlements occur in the lower zone below 1,000 m asl.|
The soils at Nangkor are generally shallow to moderately deep dark greyish brown sandy loam soils with bedded quartzites, gneiss and granite as main rock types. Phuentsholing has moderately shallow to deep greyish brown silty loam to silty clay loam soils with variegated phyllite, dolomite & conglomerate as main rock types.|

Prevailing socio-economic conditions of those living in the location and/or nearby

The main livelihood source of the rural communities of Nangkor and Phuentsholing is crop agriculture with supplementary livelihood from livestock production. The farmers also earn some cash income from off-farm activities such as construction activities.
Nangkor gewog is remote with poor road network and public facilities. Development activities is limited and majority of the farmers are poor. Phuntsholing gewog has good access to market and other public facilities. Most of the farmers are self sufficient.
In Nangkor gewog, 4.2% of the households own less than 1 acre of agricultural land, 36.6% from 1 to 5 acres, 34.7% from 5 to 10 acres, and 24.5% more than 10 acres. In Phuentsholing gewog, 6.5% of the farm households own less than 1 acre of agricultural land, 34% from 1 to 5 acres, 33% from 5 to 10 acres and 26.5% above 10 acres|

On the basis of which criteria and/or indicator(s) (not related to The Strategy) the proposed practice and corresponding technology has been considered as 'best'?

The proposed practice has been considered 'best' because of its suitability and effectiveness in controlling soil erosion in Bhutan's mountainous terrain.

Section 2. Problems addressed (direct and indirect causes) and objectives of the best practice

Main problems addressed by the best practice

1) Soil erosion on moderately steep terrain (upto 30 degree).
2) Ease of workability by construction of flat or partially flat terraces
3) Moisture stress problems through retention of runoff water

Outline specific land degradation problems addressed by the best practice

Mountainous terrain, heavy rainfall and loose soil structure make Bhutan's agricultural landscapes highly vulnerable to soil erosion and degradation. The reported practice to a good extent addresses soil conservation and sustainable farming needs in Bhutan's mountainous terrain.|

Specify the objectives of the best practice

Control soil erosion, maintain soil fertility, promote intensive cultivation and increase the ease of workability - which all contribute to increased and sustainable crop production.|

Section 3. Activities

Brief description of main activities, by objective

Farmers training for developing bench-terraces and supply of tools and raw materials to the trained farmers with priority to those who belong to poor households. Demonstration plots have also been established for training and extension purposes.

Short description and technical specifications of the technology

Bench terracing is a soil conservation practice consisting of a series of level or nearly level strips running across a slope following the contour lines at certain vertical intervals. The level strips (terraces) supported by steep banks or risers made of earth or rocks, are used for cultivation. Terraces reduce both the amount and velocity of water moving over the soil surface, thereby reducing soil erosion. Terracing permits more intensive cropping than would otherwise be possible. Furthermore, it also increases the ease of workability because of flat terraces.|
Bench terracing is not recommended beyond 30 degree slope. Prior to terracing, slope of the proposed site needs to be determined. Based on the slope gradient, the terrace/vertical interval is marked. From the marked  terrace/vertical interval, contour lines are established using an A-frame. After laying out the contour lines, cut and fill areas of the terrace are clearly demarcated. From the cut area, topsoil is completely removed and piled it in one of the corners. Then using the subsoil, the terrace leveling is done. After leveling, the saved topsoil is spread over the surface of the terraces. This is done mainly to put back the fertile topsoil on top of the terraces so that farmers can immediately grow crops after terracing without much decline in yield. After this, the terraces need to be mulched properly to prevent soil erosion by reducing the impacts of rain water. In order to further stabilize the terrace risers, plantation of fodder grass slips are also encouraged along the risers.

Section 4. Institutions/actors involved (collaboration, participation, role of stakeholders)

Name and address of the institution developing the technology

National Soil Services Centre, Department of Agriculture (Ministry of Agriculture and Forests)|Post Box 907, Semtokha, Thimphu, Bhutan

Was the technology developed in partnership?


Specify the framework within which the technology was promoted

  • National initiative – government-led
  • Programme/project-based initiative

Was the participation of local stakeholders, including CSOs, fostered in the development of the technology?


List local stakeholders involved:

Local stakeholders include the local communities, agricultural field extension agents and district agriculture staff.|

For the stakeholders listed above, specify their role in the design, introduction, use and maintenance of the technology, if any.

Local communities are the target beneficiaries. Their key roles are participation in training, adopt the best practice and provide feedback for further improvement. They are also responsible for scaling-up the implementation of the best practices into other areas to combat land degradation. The Gewog RNR (Renewable Natural Resource) staff's (Extension agent) main role is to provide hands on training, provide technical backstopping and monitor how the farmers are adopting the best practices. The district RNR staff prepare plans and mobilize resources to implement the best practices. They also provide field supervision and technical backstopping to the Gewog RNR staff for the successful implementation of the best practices. |

Was the population living in the location and/or nearby involved in the development of the technology?


By means of what?
  • Consultation
  • Participatory approaches


Section 5. Contribution to impact

Describe on-site impacts (the major two impacts by category)

After terracing, it reduces soil erosion, maintains soil fertility and enables intensive agricultural production. Because of the flat terraces, it also increases the ease of workability.|
Improved livelihood as a result of more intensive agricultural production.
Terracing is labour intensive but once it been terraced, it is one of the best Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices to combat land degradation especially in a rugged terrain like ours.|
Reduced land degradation

Describe the major two off-site (i.e. not occurring in the location but in the surrounding areas) impacts

Reduction in siltation of hydro-power dams (reservoirs) toward the lower reaches of the streams and rivers.
Minimal impact on the water biodiversity due to reduced sedimentation and eutrophication.

Impact on biodiversity and climate change

Explain the reasons:

The practice is expected to have a positive impact on climate change mitigation. It reduces soil erosion and maintains good ground cover through intensive crop cultivation. This enables to better sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Better soil conservation measures will reduce the vulnerabilities of agricultural landscapes to climate-related disasters such as land degradation, flash floods and drought. Since Bhutan is characterized by rugged terrain, fragile geology and erratic climatic conditions, it is more vulnerable to flash floods, land slides and drought. The proposed practice will enable our farming communities to better cope with climate change impacts and enhance food security through prevention and mitigation of land degradation, intensive crop cultivation and conservation of soil moisture during dry spell which might be caused by erratic climatic events.|
Reduced sedimentation and eutrophication of water bodies are expected to help maintain healthy aquatic life.

Has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out?

Has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out?



The findings suggest that major costs include additional tools and labour, and this amounts to about BTN 15,000 (USD 330) to bench-terrace 0.41ha of land. Bench-terracing is labor-intensive and this can act as a major deterrant. The biggest benefits include the increase in cultivable land and crop production. 83% of the participating farmers reported increased crop yields after conversion to bench-terraces.|

Section 6. Adoption and replicability

Was the technology disseminated/introduced to other locations?

Was the technology disseminated/introduced to other locations?



Goshing and Bardo gewogs (Zhemgang district)|Lokchina and Bongo gewogs (Chukha district)|Lumang and Thrimshing gewogs (Trashigang district)

Were incentives to facilitate the take up of the technology provided?

Were incentives to facilitate the take up of the technology provided?


Specify which type of incentives:
  • Financial incentives (for example, preferential rates, State aid, subsidies, cash grants, loan guarantees, etc)

Can you identify the three main conditions that led to the success of the presented best practice/technology?

Cohesion between farmers and high level of interest among them to address the problems of unproductive land and soil erosion.
Bench terracing is done in a very participatory manner through involvement of farmers and field extension agents in design and construction of the terraces.
Highly motivated field extension agents and their positive interactions with the local farmers.


In your opinion, the best practice/technology you have proposed can be replicated, although with some level of adaptation, elsewhere?


At which level?
  • Local
  • Sub-national
  • National
  • Subregional
  • Regional
  • International

Section 7. Lessons learned

Related to human resources

The practice demands additional labour, but this has been addressed through labour sharing within the community. It is done in a very participatory manner as a community rather than as an individual household. However with increased outmigration of local people into urban areas, the practice needs to be made more labour-efficient based on farmers' feedback and knowledge.|

Related to financial aspects

The practice involves high cost in the initial stage but over the long term it involves low cost and high returns. So, persistent support is required, including some form of subsidies, in the initial stage.|

Related to technical aspects

The techniques involved are simple and easily understood by the farmers. Therefore, basic training programmes are sufficient to build requisite knowledge and skills of the farmers. This, in turn, has helped lower training and extension costs.|

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