Dolpa's Yarshagumba Collectors

Yarsagumba (Cordyceps sinensis) is a unique product; it is a fungus that grows on butterfly larva and is found above an altitude of 4000 m in Karnali and Western Nepal Himalayas. Dolpa is one of the main areas for Yarshagumba collection and trade in (over 50% of the country’s supply comes from Dolpa). Until 2001, the Nepali government banned the collection of Yarshagumba, but illegal and unregulated harvesting was rampant. Because the trade was illegal, collectors received low prices (about 315 rupees per kg).

ANSAB, NNN, HJSS, and other organizations lobbied that the trade to be made legal and that effective harvesting regulations instituted while the Yarshagumba populations were still healthy. ANSAB and Enterprise Works World Wide (EWW) have observed in the past that when illegal, unregulated harvesting is allowed to continue unchecked, with low income generation in the communities, eventually habitat destruction occurs and the communities lose a source of livelihood. When price spikes hit the market, the boom and bust effects can be devastating.

The government did lift the ban, but imposed an impractical royalty rate of NRs. 20,000 per kg. Due to weak law enforcement, few royalties were collected and funds were not generated for conservation efforts. During this time, the price of  Yarshagumba increased from 315 rupees per kg in 1992 to 105,000 rupees per kg (US$ 1,400) in 2002. There was an influx of thousands of people from many adjoining districts looking to collect Yarshagumba. Local mechanisms were not yet in place to regulate harvesters; the threat to habitat destruction continued.

In face of this potential devastation, ANSAB aided local communities in regulating Yarshagumba harvesting through community forestry process and lobbied the government to adjust the royalty rates. Three forest users groups (Pokepani, Rolgad and Meli) were re-formed in Majhphal VDC and amended their constitutions. The Yarshagumba area (5,225 ha) was surveyed. The forest management operational plans of all three FUGs were revised to include NTFPs management schemes and the area was formally handed over to the FUGs. The FUGs decided to levy a tax of NRs. 100 per collector as entry fee and NRs. 5,000 per kg as conservation fee for Yarshagumba.

The FUGs had a few difficulties in guarding the forest areas from illegal and unmanaged collection, but the FUGs reacted quickly and formed four small task-force teams, with ten young, energetic FUG members to guard entry points to the collection areas. Where the District Forest Office, with all its government mechanisms, had failed to regulate Yarshagumba collection and collect royalties, the FUGs have managed to bring about effective regulation of harvesting. The three FUGs were able to control access to the community forests and initiate harvesting regulations resulting in the collection of about NRs. 800,000 from fees in the first year. The economic benefit to the FUGs members is enormous. The effort now needs to be expanded.