In Mugu, ban on Yarsha collection puts harvesters and entrepreneurs, at loose endsFor most families in the rural municipalities, Yarsha collection is the only source of income.
Raj Bahadur Shahi
The ban on the collection of the lucrative Himalayan herb Yarsagumba has started to affect the livelihood of farmers in Mugu. Collection of the herb—also known as the ‘Himalayan viagra’ for its widely-perceived aphrodisiacal quality—is the only source of income for as many as 2,380 households in Mugu’s Mugam Karmarong Rural Municipality and 1,080 families in Chhayanath Rara Municipality. These two are the local units with the most number of Yarsa collectors in the district.
Tsering Tamang, a local of Mugamakarmarong, for the past eight years has been making the perilous journey to collect the herb and depends on its sale to make ends meet. This year, with the ban on Yarsagumba collection, he is worried about how to manage his household expenses.
“With the nationwide lockdown in place and the ban put on Yarsagumba collection, I am in a tight spot. Our family does not have an alternate source of income,” he said. Last year, he had made Rs58,000 from harvesting the herb. One piece of the herb sells for as much as Rs1,000 in the district and can be sold at an even higher price outside the district, said Tamang.
Mugu, one of the most remote and least developed districts in Nepal, has an uneven topography made of rocky terrains and sees only sporadic rainfall, which makes an unfavourable condition for agriculture. Following the novel coronavirus crisis, local units in the district have put a ban on Yarsa collection this season to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Hasta Nepali, a local of Rowagaun in Chhayanath Rara Municipality, said that poor families like his will be hit hardest by the ban on Yarsa collection.
“We survive on the income we get from the Yarsa collection, as we don’t have any jobs,” Nepali said. “Coronavirus has put a stop to everything, making life all the more difficult for us.”
If not for the ban, the grasslands and hills of Mugu, the hotspots for Yarsa collection locally known as Patans, would be crowded with Yarsa collectors at this time of the year. With the ban, the Patans are now empty. This comes as a fatal blow not only to the hundreds of Yarsa collectors but also to the dozens of Yarsa traders and hotel entrepreneurs.
“The ban on Yarsa collection directly affects our business,” Sutta Rokaya, the proprietor of Rokaya Hotel in Rius Bazaar, said. “This time last year, we had so many customers that it was difficult to manage food and lodging for all of them. There was much money to be made. Today, the revenue is zero.”
Besides Yarsa collectors, traders and hotel entrepreneurs, the ban has also affected the offices of the local bodies in the district. The local units used to collect a certain amount of revenue as ‘custom duty’ from Yarsha collectors. Last year alone, Mugumakarmarong Rural Municipality collected revenue of Rs10million from over 7,000 individuals, according to Tirtha Raj Shahi, chief administrative officer of the local unit.
“The revenue was good but the ban had to be put in place this year. The spread of the virus would have been uncontrollable if not for the ban,” said Shahi. “But on the brighter side, with no activity this year, we expect an increased production next year.”