Australia Awards alumnus Dr Kuenga Namgay is driving change and giving back to his home country in numerous ways, from contributing towards Bhutan’s livestock development and environmental studies to cultivating institutional linkages between Australia and Bhutan.
Kuenga completed his PhD on Social Sciences & Environmental Sciences at the Charles Sturt University (CSU) in 2013, as a recipient of an Australian Leadership Award. He is now the Chief at the Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in Bhutan, contributing substantially towards development of the country’s dairy and livestock industry.
“The opportunity to study in Australia through Australia Awards taught me how to embrace and appreciate diversity, and co-exist with people from different cultures” says Kuenga.
“It has given me an opportunity to network with people with different backgrounds from various parts of the world (not just Australia), whom I contact now for different purposes.”
Recognising the importance of global connectivity, Kuenga linked CSU with various institutions in Bhutan to foster linkages that benefit both countries. During his study at CSU, Kuenga noticed exchange/exposure visits to Nepal carried out by the School of Environmental Studies for its students of environmental studies. Renowned for environmental conservation, Kuenga believed that Bhutan would make another excellent destination for Australian students undertaking environmental studies. He discussed the idea with his supervisors, the head of the school, the course coordinators and the management of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Environmental Studies (UWICE) in Bumthang, Bhutan. His efforts bore fruit when he finally managed to connect the two institutions. Today, students undertaking environmental studies at CSU make regular annual visits to UWICE, deepening the Australia-Bhutan relations.
“Creating connections amongst nations, especially people-to-people connections, is key to success in this extremely connected 21stcentury world” says Kuenga.
“For me, creating these linkages with Australia in particular is important, because Bhutanese people take pride in our values such as tha damtse which roughly translates to being grateful to the one who helped you and always trying to repay in some way,” he adds.
Currently, Kuenga is working on a project that is contributing significantly towards protecting the red panda habitat and the livelihoods of herders who are protectors of red panda habitats. He is working with his principal PhD supervisor Dr Joanne Millar, his CSU PhD colleague, Dr Karma Tenzing at the Institute of Land Water and Society within the School of Environmental Studies at CSU, and partners in Bhutan (Department of Livestock, Regional Livestock Development Centre in Kanglung and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary), on the project funded by the Darwin Initiative. Titled Sustainable rangeland management to protect red pandas and herder livelihoods, the project with a budget amounting to over AUD 500,000 is near completion.
Kuenga actively participates in bi-annual Bhutan-Australia Bilateral Discussions as a delegate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. He is also an executive member of the Bhutan Australia Alumni Association (BAAA). Ahead of assuming his role in this position, back in 2015, the year designated as the National Reading Year by the government, Kuenga successfully nominated his primary school, Dungna Primary School, a remote school under Chhukha district, as the recipient of more than 600 books as a donation from the BAAA.
In 2016, Kuenga played an important role in facilitating a successful return visit of Australian partners involved in the implementation of a Highland Livestock Development Project (HLDP) nearly 30 years ago. In 2017, he also collaborated in the delivery of an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) mission assessing Bhutan’s Dairy Development Master Plan.
Using research findings and recommendations from his PhD study, Kuenga continues to contribute significantly towards shaping livestock development in Bhutan. The study, titled Transhuman agro-pastoralism in Bhutan: Does it have a place in the 21st century? explores contemporary practices and changes among agro-pastoralists in Bhutan among those who raise cattle against the backdrop of a myriad of changes including policy and climate – according to a migratory system. Drawing on his research findings, Kuenga is involved in providing expert advice to the government and making policy decisions on pasture resources allocation and utilisation.