Yarsha pickers face drop in income as prices diveThe price of yarshagumba has been dropping for three years in a row, and mountain villages where collecting the herb is a major source of livelihood are looking at hard times as their incomes are shrinking.
The price of yarshagumba has been dropping for three years in a row, and mountain villages where collecting the herb is a major source of livelihood are looking at hard times as their incomes are shrinking.
This year’s business has been disappointing so far, said collectors of the herb which grows in the wild on the Himalayan foothills and is sought for its aphrodisiac properties.
Two years ago, yarshagumba fetched Rs2.8 million per kg at Maikot, Bukipatan. The harvest was good too, and yarsha collectors were able to earn Rs1.7 million per household. Last year, prices plunged to Rs2 million per kg. It fell again this year to Rs1.5 million.
Three weeks have passed since the yarsha collection season started, but trading has been disappointing, said Ramita Buda, a yarsha trader. Buda said that a piece of yarsha used to bring Rs1,000 until last year. This year, prices are down to Rs250 to Rs500 per piece.
Another trader, Hem Raj Pun, said prices had dropped due to quality issues. “As yarsha demand has slowed in the international market, traders are reluctant to invest in it.” Sharp yellow coloured yarsha is prized as being of high quality.
Laxmi Prasad Pun, president of the Yarsha Festival Main Organising Committee, said output had dropped sharply this year as snowfall was very thin. “Both the output and quality has been eroding each passing year,” he said. “Prices could also be affected by the drop in quality.” Many yarsha collectors have started returning after failing to collect as much as expected. Jaya Bahadur Buda, a local collector, said that he had picked 200 pieces of yarsha last year, but this year he has been able to collect only 20 pieces after two weeks.
Everyday, 100-200 yarsha collectors are returning from Bukipatan, the collection site in Rukum, said DSP Rupesh Kumar Khadka. “Not only Bukipatan, people from Rukum who have temporarily migrated to Dolpa to pick yarsha are also coming back.”
During the May-June picking season, thousands of villagers travel by mule and yak to high pastures to collect the herb which is celebrated as Himalayan Viagra.
In 2014, a total of 152,200 individuals went to collect the valuable herb. Gokul Tulachan, a yarsha collector in Rukum, earned Rs60,000 last year. He has not been so lucky this season.
“I have collected only 20 yarsha plants this season,” said Tulachan who returned after only 10 days in the mountains. “I will not be able to recover the Rs10,000 I spent on my journey.”
Hundreds of people from Rukum temporarily migrate to the mountain region of the district to collect the herb. Nearly 30 schools were closed in eastern Rukum as students took time off from studies to scour the hillsides. This year, the collection season opened on May 28. A yarsha festival was organized this year too. The police estimate that 30 percent of the collectors have returned so far.
This year, only 10 traders have obtained permits to collect yarsha from the collectors, according to the District Forest Office.
“After prices started to drop, traders have started to abandon the business,” said Basanta Kumar Shahi, information officer of the District Forest Office.
The yarsha trade in Mugu used to be worth Rs350 million to Rs400 million in the past. A drop in production has affected the income of locals.