Yarsa yield falls in SankhuwasabhaHardly any Yarsagumba is found in Silichong while Yarsagumba harvest has significantly plunged in Makalu in the past few years, say pickers.
Surya Kulung, a resident of Silichong Rural Municipality, went to the highlands in May last week with the hopes of making an income with the yarsagumba he would collect.
He paid Rs 500 to Makalu Barun National Park to get a permit to collect Yarsagumba. Little did he know that he would have to return empty-handed this time, after spending two weeks looking for the precious herb.
“When we reached the highlands, there was hardly any yarsagumba,” Kulung said. “We even waited for a few days hoping for the fungus to sprout but nothing happened.”
Like every year, several villagers from Silichong and Makalu rural municipalities in Sankhuwasabha trekked to the highlands to collect yarsagumba. But this year, most of them returned disappointed.
Yarsagumbas are usually found in Digling and Yanglekharka among other places of Silichong and Thulopokhari as well as in the Shivadhara areas of Makalu Rural Municipality.
Until a few years back, the collection of yarsagumba was a major income source for the people of Silichong and Makalu rural municipalities. “A picker could collect Yarsagumba worth Rs 400,000 to Rs 500,000 until some five years ago,” Kulung said. “One can hardly collect the fungus worth Rs 30,000 now.”
According to the locals, the pickers have hardly found any Yarsagumba in Silichong highlands over the past few years while Yarsa harvest has significantly plunged in Makalu.
Conservationists say overharvest of the herb and recklessness of the collectors are the leading causes behind the decline of Yarsagumba yield in the highlands of Sankhuwasabha.
“While Yarsagumba production is gradually decreasing every year in the district, the collection was the lowest this season,” said Lakpat Kulung, the ranger of Makalu Barun National Park. “The yield of the precious fungus started decreasing in the past five years.”
According to the national park, more than 2,000 people used to collect Yarsagumba after taking permission in the past. But this year, only 142 people received permission from the national park administration.
Yarsagumba picking season falls in May and June, right before the monsoon starts. The herb, believed to have aphrodisiac qualities, is found at elevations between around 3,000 and 5,000 metres above sea level in several mountain districts of Nepal. Makalu Barun National Park issued Yarsagumba permission for a month starting from May 24 to June 23 this year.
Yarsagumba is formed as a parasitic fungus that grows within a variety of caterpillars. It kills the caterpillar and emerges from its body as a thin stem.
According to ranger Lakpat, the Makalu Barun National Park used to collect around Rs100 millions of revenue from the Yarsagumba collected in the national park area. But the park only collected Rs 593,251 this year from export permission of Yarsagumba this year, said Lakpat. The park administration charges Rs 30,000 per kilogram of Yarsagumba collected in the national park.
The national park claims that the collectors recklessly dig in the highlands to collect Yarsagumba which could lead to the extinction of the precious fungus. “It is suspected that the pickers dig the ground and damage the roots of Yarsagumba. The national park has banned digging in the area,” said Lakpat, adding that Nepal Army personnel have been deployed in the highlands to monitor human activities and conserve the areas.