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Replacement of wooden channels and turbine with HDEP pipes and iron cast and steel wheels respectively in the traditional water mills

About the Implementing organization

Name: Traditional Water Mill User Groups of Bumthang

Country: Bhutan

Year of establishment: 2011

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization


Traditionally, the traditional water mills have long and carved wooden channels that delivers the water to the turbine blades to rotate the wheels of the mill. Each of these channels are made of tall trees and would require replacement every now and then, putting a toll of forest resources. As it is not durable and stable, water conveyance was also an issue as there could be spillage or damage of the channel thus hampering the rotation of the mill. Connecting the stream and the mill with a HDEP pipe was innovative, easy and reliable. More over the consistency in rotating was a major factor that increased the efficiency of the system.

Similarly replacing the wooden mill wheels with improvised iron cast and steel turbine was innovative. This low cost, locally fabricated, wheel was reliable and durable and easily replaceable. It greatly enhanced the efficiency as high as 75 % and also reduced the grinding time from eight hours to grind 20 kg of buckwheat to two hours.

The change in these features in the traditional mill did not change the traditional architect and design of the mill itself rather transformed its functional capacity and efficiency.

Nature Element

Forests / Mountains / Rivers

Type of Action

Protection / Restoration / Sustainable use / Mainstreaming into sectors / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Health / Renewable energy / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

The traditional mills are heavily dependent on natural resources. Through this initiative 30 traditional mills were rehabilitated using HDEP pipe for canal and replacing the wooden turbine with efficient steel turbines. This has provided coping mechanism for drying of water sources and reduced dependency on natural resources (saving about 150 full grown tress/year). Before the intervention, farmers felled large number of trees for turbines, channel and maintenance of shed. For instance, for each water mill around 5-6 trees were cut each year, and for 30 mills, 150 trees/year.

The improved design helped farmers to revive the use of mills and prefer traditional water mills over electric/fuel powered mills as it retains the taste and aroma of the flour besides being pollution free technology. With improved efficiency of the water mills, dependence on fossil fuel decreased. This has also increased awareness on environmental conservation and the need to protect critical watersheds.

Sustainable Development Impacts

Jobs and livelihood: The revitalization of traditional water mills have allowed people to realize that farm produce can generate adequate cash income and support livelihoods. Such mills have become tourist attractions and become income generating opportunity. Food security: more people are interested to cultivate this traditional crop & 1200 acre of fallow land are reclaimed. Water security: there is more awareness on sensible timber consumption and heightened awareness of protection of critical watershed that support water sources Health: farmers now associate buckwheat with healthy diet and attach monetary value to it Renewable energy: there is preference of water driven mills over conventional mills driven by fossil fuels Climate action; small collective actions at grassroots level can contribute towards larger national, regional and global climate actions especially in terms of reduced impact on natural resources and protection of watersheds, consciously or unconsciously.


The success of this initiative is widely appreciated by other agencies like Tourism Council of Bhutan, and Ministry of Agriculture and Forest (MoAF) and widely covered by the national television. Looking at the success of the initiative and seeing potentials for up-scaling, the national TV channel [Bhutan Broadcasting Service), prepared a documentary of the initiative for wider dissemination. The most visible impact of this initiative is the reclaiming of 1200 acres of fallow land under buckwheat cultivation and branding of the product as Organic Plus because of zero emission from the mill as well as the cultivation was done without using any chemical fertilizers. As a result of the initiative, the price of the buckwheat increased from BTN 60/kg [approx. USD 1] to BTN 100/kg [USD 1.7] in 2013 and the current (2017) market price is BTN 125/kg. The watermills have also become a tourist attractions.


Following the model from the two sub-districts, MoAF replicated the construction of watermills in the other two sub-districts [of Ura & Chumey] of Bumthang district. Farmers’ from the western region of Bhutan [Ha district] were on study visit and expressed interest to replicate the same model in their district as they are located at the same altitude as Bumthang and produce buckwheat, barley, wheat. Considering the cultural significance of traditional water mills and also the similarity with water driven prayer wheels (which looks structurally same), the improved design would be replicated through out Bhutan to reduce timber consumption, revitalize the use of traditional mills and also to attract tourism

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