Despite Bhutan’s small population there has been much economic development in recent years and the economy is growing rapidly.
While a large part of the Bhutanese population is still illiterate and resides in rural areas (with approximately 1 in 5 still living under the poverty line), the majority of Bhutanese have good shelter and are self-sufficient. Rapid modernization has brought about vast improvements in living standards. All villages now have access to basic amenities such as education, running water, basic healthcare and are connected by roads and electricity. Even the most remote villages have connection to the telecommunication network including mobile phone services.
The Bhutanese economy is predominantly agricultural. Farmers supplement their income through the sale of animal products such as cheese, butter and milk. Farmers’ markets are common throughout the country, supplying the people with fresh organic local produce.
The main staple crops are rice, maize, wheat and buckwheat while cash crops are predominantly potatoes, apples, oranges, cardamom, ginger, and chillies. A fruit based industry has been established in the capital allowing farmers from the nearby areas to sell their produce and thereby earn additional revenue.
Bhutan’s rich biodiversity provides the country with ample forest resources and this has brought about the development of a thriving cane and bamboo handicraft industry. Craftsmen weave a number of beautiful and intricate items out of bamboo and cane including hats, backpacks, floor mats and traditional bowls. These items are then sold to tourists or other Bhutanese.
The Bhutanese tourism industry has only been opened up since 1974. It has now grown to become a major contributing factor in the Bhutanese economy creating countless employment opportunities and generating additional revenue for the government.
The government is committed to building a sustainable tourism industry that is not only financially viable but also limits the negative cultural and environmental impacts commonly associated with the culture of mass tourism. By establishing a policy of “High Value, Low Impact” tourism, the kingdom of Bhutan seeks to ensure that it attracts only the most discerning visitors with a deep respect for cultural values, traditions and the natural environment.
To this end efforts have been made to ensure that even remote areas are publicized and able to reap the benefits of tourism while still respecting their traditions, culture and natural environment.
Due to its fast flowing, glacial-fed rivers, Bhutan has enormous potential to produce hydroelectricity. With the construction of several major dams, the power sector has undeniably been the biggest contributor to the Bhutanese exchequer. The Chukha Hydro Power Corporation, the Tala Hydro Power Corporation, the Baso Chu Hydro Power Corporation and the Kurichu Hydro Power Corporation, under the umbrella of Druk Green Power Corporation, are some of the existing mega projects in the country. The 1500 MW of power they generate, most of which is exported to India, barely scratches the surface of Bhutan’s largely untapped hydroelectric potential. With its abundant water resources, Bhutan still has the capacity to generate another 30,000 MW of electricity. However, the government is moving cautiously with new construction projects in order to minimise the impact upon surrounding areas.
The manufacturing sector is another major contributor to national revenue. With an industrial sector established in Pasakha, small scale industries such as cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and ferro silicon, Coca Cola and also wood based industries have started developing.
As a result of the recent economic development, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita incomes in South Asia at more than US$2,363. However despite this high level of growth and development, stringent regulations have been enacted in order to protect Bhutan’s natural environment.