COVID-19 has dealt a huge blow for the cordyceps collectors in Bhutan
Prior to 2004, harvesting of cordyceps was considered illegal in Bhutan. Only in 2004, harvesting of cordyceps was legalized by the Royal Government of Bhutan under the Royal Decree.
Cordyceps sinensis, a type of parasitic fungi is popularly known for its high medicinal value. The Bhutanese cordyceps, grown 5000m above sea level have caught the interest of people from all over the world. The Himalayan cordyceps known as yartsa guenbub locally was the most trending products from Bhutan in the year 2019-2020 due to their organic value.
The high demand is due to the many health benefits of cordyceps. Cordyceps are known to cure and ease various diseases such as cough, chronic bronchitis, respiratory disorders, kidney disorders, nighttime urination, high cholesterol, liver disorders, etc. Cordyceps are also known as the ‘Himalayan Viagra' in the market. It is said to treat male impotence and erectile dysfunction.
Check out the 7 health benefits of Cordyceps.
WHO ARE ELIGIBLE TO HARVEST CORDYCEPS?
Prior to 2004, harvesting cordyceps was considered illegal in Bhutan. Only in 2004, harvesting of cordyceps was legalized by the Royal Government of Bhutan under the Royal Decree. Since then, cordyceps has been a resource for Bhutanese traditional medicines.
However, not all Bhutanese are allowed to harvest cordyceps. Only highlanders living in Gasa, Bumthang, Thimphu, Paro and Trongsa districts can harvest the Himalayan cordyceps. According to the guidelines from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Department of Forest and Park Services, only nomads and semi-nomads are granted permission to harvest cordyceps. And they are only allowed to do harvesting once a year. The cordyceps harvesting season in Bhutan is from the second week of May to the third week of June.
Eligible households are required to apply for a collection permit. The collection permits are issued by the respective local leaders (gups) upon verification by the forest officers.
Only highlanders who have their household number (thram) registered in the Gewog Administrator will be approved to harvest cordyceps. Even then, not all the household members are allowed to do the harvesting. There is a restriction of a maximum of three members per household that can harvest cordyceps. Civil servants and children below 12 years old are prohibited from harvesting.
To avoid conflict of interests, the nomads are also allocated specific boundaries for their harvesting.
SOURCE OF LIVELIHOOD
Since the legalization of harvesting cordyceps, many nomads have seen improved lifestyles. Before the legalization of cordyceps harvesting, the main source of income for the highlanders was from dairy products. With the sustained income through the sale of cordyceps, many nomads have invested in building proper housing in the lowlands and send their children to pursue higher education. Some also run their own businesses in their locality.
THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON THE NOMADS
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted many highlanders and those involved in the cordyceps trading business. "We have not made any money because the dealers could not export the product", said Aum Dorji Bidha, a semi-nomad hailing from Soe Gewog near Mt. Jomolhari. With teary eyes, Aum Dorji shared her fears that the cordyceps accumulated in her home might dry up. The lesser the weight of the cordyceps, the lesser money they can earn. The pandemic has definitely come as a huge blow for these highlanders who depend on the sale of cordyceps as their source of income.
Apart from the raw cordyceps, there are also various cordyceps products made in Bhutan in the form of tablets and herbal tea. If you wish to purchase some of these cordyceps products, you can visit Bhutan Natural online store. There are also other made in Bhutan products sold online.