Study on Harvesting Techniques and Management Modalities of Yarsagumbain the Pasturelands of Rukum District
Renu Napit1,Bikash Gwanwali2 *
1 Researcher, Concern Center for Rural Youth (C2FRY), Basundhara, Kathmandu, Nepal
2Researcher, Concern Center for Rural Youth (C2FRY), Basundhara, Kathmandu, Nepal
The livelihood of mountains people of western Nepal largely depend on the collection and trade ofMAPs (Medicinal and Aromatic Plants) andNTFP (Non-Timber Forest Products), one of them is Yarsagumba which is providing an enormous economic benefit to the local people and also aiding to promote livelihood of Himalayan region as well as to the Government of Nepal. Yarsagumba is highly valuable bio-resource of Trans-Himalayan region fetching a high price in the international market for its extraordinary medical values.But there are many challenges of it like improper harvesting techniques, over-harvesting, inadequate storing techniques, long market chain, unmanaged trade system,unequal benefits sharing, social conflicts, crimes, illegal activities, environmental degradation, pollution rising in pasture land, degradation of pasture lands, less production of Yarsagumba, Climate change issues, health and sanitation of collectors, negative impacts on education of children during collection, over population in pasture land more than its carrying capacity etc. The main objective of the research was to study about Yarsagumba (OphiocordycepsSinensis,) its distribution, uses and trade in Nepal, especially in Rukum District. Other objectives were- to research about the right techniques of harvesting of Yarsagumba in upper Rukum and pasture land management modalities. The study found several malpractices in collection and trading of Yarsagumba. It is highly sensitive issue for the people living in the project area as this is the only source of cash income and their livelihood is highly dependent on the collection and trade of Yarsagumba. Many local people’s livelihood had been uplifted due to the trade of Yarsagumba. There does a huge price differential exist between the local and international market and those who are collectors earn only a small share from the trade. Due to the lack of rules and regulations governing the system and appropriate policies,it could be ended by triggering devastating changes in the fragile mountains. So, awareness among rural collector about NTFP management, technical knowledge & support for harvesting and post harvesting practices are essential for the conservation of valuable medicinal product of mountain region of our country.
Keywords:Yarsagumba, harvesting, pastureland, management, Rukum, livelihood
Nepal has endowed by many high valuedNTFPs(Non-Timber Forest Products) in all ecological regions and it is cited as an important source of NTFPs including medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) in South Asia . These non-timber forest products have played an important role in the livelihoods of local communities in Nepal. There are 161 types of NTFP products in Nepal, one of which is Yarsagumba, a highly costly Himalayan medicinal product with low volume production .Among them,Yarsagumba is world’s one of the most expensive medical fungus and one of the highly valued. There are 21 species, 6 genera and 3 families of Cordyceps fungus as far reported in Nepal. There have been found 680 species of Yarsagumba in worldwide. But Cordyceps are found more than 750 species and out of them 75 species of fungus can infect other species of insect and produce harmful poisons . In China only there are 68 species of them. In Tibetan Platue and Himalayan region, 33 species of them are recorded. Out of them, 3 species are in use;O.Sinensis(BerkSacc.), O.militaris(L.Fr.) Link, O.nepalensis, which have medicinal values. But O. sinensishas highest medicinal values than others.In traditional Chinese medical system, Yarsagumba is regarded as important herb for restoring body energy, improving lung function, enriching the kidney, increasing stamina and boosting immunity and libido.
Despite of its scientific progress, further development is required particularly in formulation of dosage forms and analysis leading to the best utilization of this most costly medicinal mushroom . It is up to estimated that 25 districts of Nepal have been distributed with Yarsagumba. Among them only 9 districts are involved in commercial business. Dolpa, Jumla, Humla, Kalikot, Rukum, Baglung, Mustang, Manang, Rasuwa, Gorkha, Lamjung, Dhading, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok, Solukhumbu, SankhuwasavaandTaplejung districts of Nepal with the areas above snowline are rich in Yarsagumba. But Dolpa, Darchula, Humla and Rukum are the districts where better quality and large amount of yarsagumba is collected. Yarsagumba of Kalang and Sisal of DhoVDCofDolpa and boundary of Dolpa and Rukum districts are considered as the best quality and are collected in largest amount.
It had no official contribution in the Nepalese national economy till 2001 as its collection, use, sale, distribution, transportation and export was banned by the government of Nepal (Forest Act 1993 and Forest Regulation 1995 of Nepal)since 2051/12/20 BS for its conservation. With the lift of ban from this species in 2005, Yarsagumba has become one of the significant market commodities in the herbal sector of Nepal. Presently, Yarsagumba is traded at 25 to 35 lakhs per kg in the market. It can be reached up to 40 lakhs in international market if the product is high quality. The trade, mostly in unprocessed form, is increasing exponentially and the government is earning substantial revenue Rs 5.1 million in 2068/069 and Rs.12.9million in recent year 2070/71.The highest production and trade of Yarsagumba in Nepal till now was in 2065/66 BS with 2242 Kgs. which is decreasing now. In its production was 1288 Kgs. As per the forest rule, an individual has to pay Rs 10,000 per kg as a royalty to the Government of Nepal. Thus, Yarsagumba is providing an economic benefit to the local people and aiding to promote livelihood of Himalayan region as well as to the Government of Nepal.
The main threats associated with distribution of Yarsagumba and ecosystems are mainly by direct and indirect human activities such as habitat alternation/destruction and unmanaged extraction of resources for trade. Most of the people are extracting the resources because of these economic necessities to depend on fungus money. Similarly the price difference between local and international market is huge leading to inequitable share of income among the primary collectors. The differences between statutory and customary laws and outdated revenue policies have stalemated the development and proper marketing of the species.
Rukum district is located in the northern part of Rapti zone of Mid-Western Development region. It lies between 28’29” north latitude to 29’00” north latitude and 82’12” east longitude to 82’53” east longitude. It is located in 754m to 6000m from sea level. This district occupies area of 2,877 sq. kilometer. Average maximum temperature of this district is 34.40 and average minimum temperature is 0.4. Maximum rainfall is 2400mm and minimum rainfall is 1600mm. Population of Rukum is 215270. Upper Tropical, subtropical, temperate, subalpine, alpine and nival climatic zones are found in Rukum district. Human development index of this district is 0.270 and it is 57th ranked district on the basis of HDI. Rice, corn, wheat, potato, buckwheat, etc are the major crops produced in the district.
Studied areas: Hukam, Ranmamaikot and Sishne are the remotest VDCs of the Rukum district. These VDCs are located in the northern mountainous parts of the district. According to the census of 2068 B.S. These VDCs are located in the upper part of the Rukum district and are known for their richness in the availability of medicinal plants and wild animals. Along with Yarsagumba (O.sinensis), Padamchalno, silajeet, satuwa, bojho, timor,
dalchinietc. More than 150 species of medicinal plants are found in these areas. Similarly, wild animals and birds like deer (Axis axis), bhalu (Selarctusthibetanus), danphe, kaliz (Lophuraleucomelanaleucom), thar, leopard etc are found in this area.
Different research findings, research materials, books, articles and documents were studied. The present market channel, trade and its management in Nepal and studied area were also studied.
Information from local level concerning the issues of right techniques of harvesting and pasture land management modalities were collected.
Total two months long observation from July to August of 2014, was conducted in three VDCs of Rukum – Sishne, Hukam and Maikot.
Key Informant Interview
Total 110 key informants were selected among the collectors, traders, members of Season Management Committee, senior citizens of the society, representatives of local political parties and representatives of local youth clubs. Different governmental and non-governmental organizations like DFO, DDC, VDC, FECOFUN, WDO, Rupantaran, NGO federations, journalists, civil society and media from the district headquarter were consulted for acquiring more information on the relevant topics.
Focus Group Discussions
Major findings of the key informant interviews were cross checked through focus group discussion organized in each wards of the project area. Participants include of various strata of society from poor to rich, upper caste to lower caste, people of different age group, and various occupations representing various political parties etc.
Seminars, workshops and trainings
Different seminars, workshops and training were conducted in district level, VDC level and in capital for obtaining more information on Yarsagumba.Similarly, three days long trainings were organized in each VDCs Hukam, Maikot and Sishne of Rukum district.
Harvesting techniques of Yarsagumba in Rukum
The harvesting of Yarsagumba takes place from mid-May to last June of the year. Collectors collect Yarsagumba by looking at grass level. It is manually picked by using tools like a small hoe, peg and knife, Kuto (sickle), small kuto, kodali, stick, nails, wood knife, iron rod, khukuri etc. After collecting Yarsagumba, its mud is cleaned by brush. Then, it is kept on open area inside the tent and wrapped in white cloth. It’s only for a couple of weeks that collectors had to work hard and this money help them to support their families for more than six months.
There is both neither processing nor any kind of value-additive works currently being done in Rukum or any areas of Nepal except drying in open air and grading (separation of products according to size). They clean the Yarsagumba by brush immediately after collecting. There is storage problem after collection. Locals at least try to store them by covering in soft and cotton cloths for months.
The trade of Yarsagumba was started in 1987-1988 in Nepal. But it was legalized in 2001 only with the provision of revenue of 20,000 Nepalese rupees per kg to the government. In 2006 revenue amount was reduced to 10,000 Nepalese rupees per kg. Virtually no monetary value existed in 1987-1988; Yarsagumba was traded for cigarettes, noodles and other goods not easily available in the village.
By 2001, Rukum harvester sold fungus for NRs 20-25 per piece but they received NRs 200-450 per piece in 2013. Although, local market prices are erratic and large fluctuation is common, influenced by market demand, timing and location of trading . Yarsagumba is sold to middleman and little is known about their contribution to the national economy of the countries. Unlike timber and agricultural products, no regular monitoring or evaluation of this resource, market chains and socio-economic contribution of Yarsagumba at national level is done.Global production of caterpillar fungus is about 83.2 tons per year. China is the largest producer (80-175 tons), followed by Nepal (1.0-3.2 tons), India (1.7-2.8 tons) and Bhutan (0.51 tons) (Winkler, 2010a). Nepal is the second largest supplier of caterpillar fungus to the global market after Tibet, China.
Current Market Channel
(Collector > Village trader > Regional trader > wholesaler > exporter)
Generally collectors sold their Yarsagumba in the pastureland, immediately after collection. The buyers are usually village trader. The village trader sold the Yarsagumba to the Regional
traders or sometime to the out regional traders. Then they sold them to the wholesaler of Yarsagumba or go to Kathmandu for the sale. Then from the wholesalers, they are exported to the foreign countries especially to the Beijing of China.
Impact of Yarsagumba on local livelihood
The insect pathogenic fungus O. sinensis is dominant and economically important caterpillar fungus for mountain livelihoods. The entire families prepare for the harvest season. Only little children and old people who can’t see or move very well remain in the village. More than half of the residents of the Maikot had climbed to 4,000 meters in the search for Yarsagumba and earn money. The age range of collectors is from 7 years to 76 years. The fungus is then harvested before the monsoon season, when tens of thousands of tents invade the vast plateau in Rukum.
Villagers said that they have to conserve it since it is very sensible and perishable natural product. If they do not collect it at a time, they may lose the fruit body and lose their employment, income and revenue. People of Rukum have to collect Yarsagumba because there is no fertile land for agricultural production and other source of income. They have very hard life.
Collectors Challenges in Rukum
Eyewitnesses said that dozens of people returned empty hand after they fell sick at upper Himalayan areas. The rainfall in the areas increased cold sharply, which led to symptoms of stomach problem, fever, nausea and other problems among the Yarsa pickers. The difficulties of harvesting at high altitude are that the paths are very narrow and steep, the weather conditions are terrible. Collectors suffer from altitude sickness, fatigue and dizziness. Collecting at high altitudes can also be hazardous. Many children from Maikot have become orphans after the harvest season, because their parents died when a block of ice struck them and swiped them away. The schools are closed during harvesting as half of its children trek with their families to the Himalayan pastures. It has effected on the education of children. Other problems are conflicts, security in the area. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, crimes, theft, looting, threats are serious problems in the area.
Impact of Climate Change on Pasturelands
Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges in the area. The impact of climate change has decreased in forage production, so the livestock had been moved to higher elevations for grazing: affecting lives of mountain people. Continuingly decreasing food security is another impact due to erratic rainfall and crop failure. Climate induced disasters in the Himalaya
such landslides, soil erosion, flood etc are frequent and devastating. Untimely rainfall, snowfall, increase in temperature in pasture land has also affected the production of Yarsagumba. It affects the lifecycle of Yarsagumba leading it to decrease in production. Similarly, untimely fructification, invasion by other species, various diseases are also the adverse effects of climate change in the area. It will adversely affect the Yarsagumba and its production.
Sustainability of the Harvesting
It is observed that most of the Yarsagumba collected were reproductively immature- lacking spores in the stroma at the time of harvest. So that, this current harvesting practice does not allow the timely release of spores into the soil. Thus, it can inhibit the reproduction. This practice is unsustainable.
The maintenance of healthy local ecosystem is a challenging task at the present day scenario. Since, the influx of collectors is increasing day by day. Excessive harvesting of Yarsagumba and using destructive harvesting technique has a negative impact in the production area. This could lead to local species extinction, eventually affecting the entire ecosystem.
Some of the practices that need be carried out are: ban on cutting green trees, emphasis on reducing and recycling of solid wastes in the pastures. Maikot villagers have also organized their own committee to coordinate the harvest and control access to the fields, which establishes charges to collectors as an entry fee. Villagers of Maikot said that entry fees have been increasing every year, and traders also have to pay government royalties.
Some of the better initiatives such as taxes on harvests that could support conservation had been put in place, starting date for the harvest had been fixed, but rotational harvesting was not practiced by local nascent institutions. However, the technical capacity and governance structure were still poor.
Pastureland Management Modalities and Harvesting Techniques
Pasture lands provide a variety of medicinal and aromatic plants from upper Himalayan region and supply forage or vegetation for grazing or browsing animals. Nepal’s pasture lands or rangelands have high biodiversity as they range from subtropical savannas to temperate grasslands and alpine meadows, and a cold, arid steppe north of the Nepal Himalayas. Rangelands are an integral part of mountain societies and they are managed as open access resources through indigenous practices which vary from place to place. They are the largest land use system on earth as they cover more than 60% land use in the world. Pasture lands provide 10% of meat of the world. They also support over 200 million people and 30-40 million wholly dependent on them. They also regulate climate and are the source of major rivers. They are regarded as important biodiversity habitats. They have also cultural values as they are the source of many religious and sacred sites. Thus Himalayan pasture lands have many ecological, social, cultural and economic values.
Purpang, Jaulabhanjyang, Gudang, Panidhal, Kundula, Breskuwa, Phulbari, Bidhkhand, Ajmira, Ula and Last Kundula are major pasturelands of Ranmamaikot. These pasturelands can be reached through three different routes. One is the route from Ranmamaikot to Dule to Simkhola to Pupal and Ajmira. Another route passes through Tingyang to Naurekhola to Purbang. And yet another route passes though Janglabhanjyang to Majhila.
Major threats for pasturelands
There are increasing many threats and problems in high land pastureland with increasing population and pressure. There is declining in quality of pasture lands, due to low input and extensive production systems. Due to the lack of pasture resource management system like managing of forest and rangeland resources in those areas local people are misusing the resources. There are also insufficient infrastructures and inaccessibility in the area. The Highlands of Rukum are deprived of basic infrastructures like: road, communication, electricity, education, health etc. There is also Human-wildlife conflict in the area. There are problems of poaching of wild animals and local people are also destructing the habitat of wild animals.There is increasing risk of climate change, landslides, fire etc. Similarly, environmental pollution is another serious problem in the pastureland due to overpopulation and improper management of wastes during the season.
Management of Pasturelands/Pastureland management modalities in the area
There is lack of presence of government agencies in the area so, local people have formed a informal committee to take responsibility of managing the pastureland and Yarsagumba harvesting season. Name of that harvesting season management committee of Ranmamaikot is Yarsa Season Management Committee. Although it is an informal committee which give attention in the overall management duringYarsagumba harvesting season. Conflicts are frequent among collectors and businessmen during the trading of Yarsagumba. So, this committee is mainly responsible to resolve conflicts and to collect entry fees during the season. Several rules and regulations have been formulated by the management committee and subcommittees.
Management committee is also worried about the decreasing production of the Yarsagumba and they are eager to work with organizations who can carry information from central level and who can inform them about scientific phenomenon of decreasing quantity of Yarsagumba. The Season management committee is working to expose the identity of their Yarsagumba to the world. They are doing it through producing printed t-shirts. They are trying to inform media about their best quality product. Committee is considering that Yarsagumba is not only increasing their economic benefits but also their social reputation, identity and cultural exposure. To save the identity of the product committee is trying to control illegal trade.
Local peoplein the area want to engage government agencies in the process of management of trading of Yarsagumba because due to lack of presence of government agencies they are facing several problems like increasing conflicts with neighboring areas, increasing personal threats and increasing interpersonal conflict. They believe that presence of government agencies in the pastureland can strengthen their effort for the better management of the Yarsagumba. People outside Ranmamaikot think that it will be better if the security of the pastureland is managed by government agencies. They argue that in the name of security of the pastureland people from Ranmamaikot collect the Yarsagumba in huge amount before allowing others to do so. They believe that presence of the government agencies will end the monopoly of the Ranmamaikot in the pastureland management. They also want to engage the government agencies for the management of pastureland and conservation of Yarsagumba. It’s because that they are being aware of the patent right of the product. Large amount of Yarsagumba found in Ranmamaikot is registered in District Forest Office of Dolpa, as it is very near to Dolpa than Rukum District Forest Office. It not only decreases the revenue of the Rukum district, but also loss the identity of the Yarsagumba of Rukum.
Now, local people are being conscious on the causes of reduction of local revenue and identity loss. Business management of committee of Ranmamaikot has banned the carrying of Yarsagumba to Dolpa before registering it in District forest office of Rukum. Mr. Marich Man Pun, representatives of management committee told that due to transitional political condition and weak presence of government agencies task of management of the season is being challenging day by day.
For the sustainable management of the pasturelands various practices are still need to be applied. Firstly, strengthening of local institution is required for its management. Then, implementation of various pastureland management practices is needed. For it use of
alternative sources of energy in the local area can be one very effective method for the management, as it will decrease the rate of degradation of natural sources of the pastureland.
Evaluations of the advanced technical and economic feasibility of improving hay-making within the traditional systems are similarly required in the area. Various restoration practices in the pasturelands through controlled grazing, rotational grazing, controlling of weed and prescribed fire, reseeding (introduction of improved variety of seeds), planting of fodder species in the barren land are sustainable management systems for the pastureland management. Similarly, promoting of natural regeneration in the pastureland., co-management of rangeland or pasturelands, building settlements for pastoralist and animal shed for livestock, building fencing for winter pasture and controlling unpalatable shrubs etc will initiate the growth and increases plant diversity there. Improving of forage quality and increases the livestock carrying capacity through increasing edible species and dry matter production will improve soil quality in the area which will yield high production there.
Similarly, activities such as adjusting stocking rate, seeding, burning, fertilizing, and restoring degraded pastures can improve carbon sequestration on pasturelands. There is need of assessment of the spatial and temporal effect of natural and human induced factors. Need the documentation of the effects of year-to-year variation in weather on vegetation dynamics. Extraction of environmental variables (like: temperature, precipitation, elevation, rangeland and pastureland management etc) often requires timely decisions based on local conditions, therefore, decentralized management system is particularly important there.
Maintenance of pastures tenure to enhance the livelihood of local inhabitants through effective and efficient resources conservation and community development strategies and by minimizing the conflicts is equally important there. Regeneration of appropriate heterogeneous local species on degraded slopes and gaps of the pastureland will help to preserve soil there. Managing intentional fires as part of the natural process and practices fuel alternatives can be also applied. Forming and strengthening a Pasture Resource Management Committee that can effectively work on pastureland management in collaboration with local user groups is very essential in the local area.
Policy and Guidelines for the management of Yarsagumba
To foster the NTFPs production, processing, and marketing, the GoN has approved a number of policy documents. In 1988, the government introduced the Master Plan for the Forestry Sector (MPFS) giving high priority to the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) and other minor forest products as one of the major program for the 22 years. Further, the
government brought a Forestry Sector Policy 2000 (revised) and incorporated the need of socio-economic growth in its development imperatives and policy objectives by exploiting the resources for maximum benefits to both the local and national economies .
The NTFPs development policy include regeneration, reproduction and commercial farming of MAPs and NTFPs, processing plant establishment, value addition, support to capital flow and infrastructure development, techniques and skill enhancement, and market management at local and international level . Further, material safety, product analysis, product certification are also included in the working policy of the MAPs and NTFPs development. The main policy guidelines managed for Yarsagumba by Nepal government are as follows.
Yarsagumba Sustainable Management Guidelines by the Nepal Government
The guidelines were prepared in 2068 BS, which is yet to be approved and promulgated by MoFSC. The guideline emphasizes the following activities;
> The collection area should be identified and demarcated
> The resource assessments of Yarsagumba need to be carried out, along with documentation of associated flora
> Likewise, for collection, District Forest Office should notify about the collection time, area and number of collectors
> The collectors have to obtain the collection permit from District Forest Office.
The main objectives of guidelines are:
- To address the difficulties and issues related to Yarsagumba collection and management
- Maintaining the critical Himalayan ecosystem by issuing collection permit based on scientific studies
- Ensuring the equitable sharing of benefit to all the actors involved
- Maintaining the social integrity and settling the disputes
- Increase in revenue collection by formalizing the collection and controlling the illegal collection and trade
Like other Himalayan regions of Nepal, livelihood of Upper Rukum people is highly depended on the collection and trade of Yarsagumba. Many local people’s livelihood had been uplifted due to the trade of Yarsagumba. Yet a huge price differential exists between the local and international market. There is lack of regulations, governing, and appropriate policies in the area. Similarly, Climate change has caused negative effects on the lifecycle of Yarsagumba causing decease in its production in the area. Security problems like crimes, theft, looting, sexual abuses, social conflicts and even murders are the main issues in the area especially in Patan (Buki) areas during collection and trade of Yarsagumba. But there are many local level initiatives which have been started their activities for the sustainable management of Yarsagumba. Government presence is weak there for the sustainable management of this valuable product. Appropriate policies and guidelines are essential for the conservation and sustainability of Yarsagumba in there. It is very necessary to conserve the resource through participatory ecosystem management, landscape and attributes of the alpine pastures that contribute to biological diversity, aesthetic beauty, recreational values, research values and continues of a sustainable flow of native Himalayan treasure like Ophiocordycepssinensis.
We want to thank all the stakeholders, locals, collectors, and traders of the district who were consulted during the study period and who have spent times with us in the villages, buki -patan areas and pasture lands and expressed their views with great interest. Similarly we are grateful to all the government departments, non- government organizations, institutions, and their officials for providing their valuable suggestions. We would also like to express our heartfelt thanks to the Multi Stakeholders Forest Program (MSFP), for proving the opportunity to conduct this study. We are very thankful withProf. Dr. Mahesh Kumar Adhikari and Mr. Anil Shrestha for their precious help in this study.
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