Dang, May 26, 2016:Â Journey to the high hills for yarsagumba collection was quite disappointing for Dal Bahadur Pun last year. Accompanied by his wife in search for the rare medicinal herb prized for its purported aphrodisiacal properties, the couple from Maikot spent Rs 15,000 for the trip but could not earn more than Rs 7,000 upon their return.
The loss of Rs 8,000 was a huge blow to the poor family. However, this year too, Pun has set off for the quest. The hope of covering last year’s loss has attracted him to 3,478-kilometer high Hanka camp this time, where enough yarsagumba is believed to have grown.
“Last year, it was all loss. Let’s see the effort may pay off this time,” he said.
Another local of Maikot, Aaitaman Pun wasn’t happy about his last year’s experience. He, too, was able to earn just Rs 7,000 and that was nothing compared to the tough and risky journey. “The net profit wasn’t more than Rs 7,000 — far less than what I expected. Let’s see what happens this time,” he said. Along with his son Rajdharma, Aitaman is also travelling to Hanpa collection camp on Friday.
Yarsagumba collectors say that the business is slumping down each year. With fewer yarsagumba found in the region, the job is becoming more challenging. Just like Dal Bahadur, some end up with loss instead of earning money.
Dharmaraj Pun of Maikot, who’s been climbing the hills for yarsagumba collection since nearly two decades, feels that things are going to be worse for yarsagumba business in days to come. The reason is that yarsagumba is not found in equal quantity in the hills as compared to the past. “The business is slowing down of course. Things have gone worse in the last few years,” he said.
Dharmaraj used to make over Rs 100,000 in a month until few years ago. Last year, he earned just Rs 40,000. However, he has not given up hopes of still making big money through the collection. “Let’s see, hopefully, I might get lucky this time,” he says.
As the collection season is on, hundreds of people have joined this thrilling journey to high Himalayas. The route is breathtakingly beautiful and equally risky. The experience remains great, say the participants. However, things turn futile when the reward amount finally disappoints you.
Locals have to buy pass worth Rs 500 from the management committee in order to collect yarsagumba. Others are charged Rs 2,000 while non Nepalis get the license for Rs 3,000. Similarly, dealers or businessmen have to pay Rs 15,000 as tax to the government. Enthusiasts from Rukum, Rolpa, Dang, Baglung, Kathmandu, Nawalparasi and Pokhara throng the hills for yarsagumba collection.
“Four to five thousand people in a year set out for yarsagumba collection every year. These include people from Pokhara, Kathmandu and other places and few Indians,” Dharmaraj said. He added that the management committee strictly observes everything and makes everyone follow the rule. “Or else, things go messy and out of control,” he explained. “This time, we are supposed to reach the collection site on Friday. We ready to go,” he said.
According to Dharmaraj, a collector gets Rs 400 to Rs 1,000 per yarsagumba depending on its length and quality. The same yarsagumba is sold off at Rs 2 to 3 million per kg. Basically, that’s exported to China. “We cannot sell our collection to unauthorized contractor. That’s the rule,” he said.
Why it’s declining
The collectors believe that the reason behind gradual decline in yarshagumba is the lack of management of the production zones. Even though the management committee shows eagerness to ensure safe trip to the collectors, it has not been able to stop them from littering in the areas. Haphazardly thrown plastic bags, bottles, glasses and so on, have directely affected the growth of the herb. According to Aitaman Pun, the dirt prevents natural growth of yarsagumba.
Apart from this, the locals also attribute the loss to climate change. Due to the change in weather, fewer yarsagumba are having healthy growth, the locals believe. Also, the lack of security is cited as a factor behind low collection of yarsagumba. Aitaman states that looters have access to some special zones where normal people cannot dare to go. And the yarsagumba the thugs collect is not officially counted or are not entitled to tax payment.
Even though police are deployed at the sensitive zones, their presence is not as dense as needed to prevent untoward incidents. This time, District Police Office, Rukum has deployed 34 policemen at collection pocket areas.