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Yartsa Goenbub collection legalised in Lunana
Harvest of Yartsa Goenbub

Villagers of the remote geog of Lunana, Gasa dzongkhag, will be allowed to harvest Yartsa Goenbub (Cordyceps Sinensis) a highly valued medicinal plant that grows in the northern fringes of the country. Lunana is 4600 metres above sea level. Yartsa Goenbub grows in meadows of sub-alpine to alpine regions.

The collection of Yartsa Goenbub is prohibited under the kingdom's forestry act but the restriction was lifted for the people of Lunana following a royal command. However, people in the other Cordyceps growing areas in the country are still prohibited from collecting the plant.

Yartsa Goenbub, literally meaning plant in summer, insect in winter is a rare fungal species widely used in clinical medicine, as a household remedy, and as an overall tonic. It is used largely by the Chinese and in Bhutan by the institute for traditional medicine (NITM) in making traditional medicines. Internet sources says that it is currently very popular due to its use as an aphrodisiac (sex stimulant) and tonic.

Lunana geog are eligible to harvest the Cordyceps

His Majesty commanded the agriculture ministry to look into the possibilities of legalising the harvesting of the medicinal plant in Lunana to serve as an additional source of income for the Lunaps. The agriculture minister said that harvesting will be done in a sustainable manner and collection will be stopped if sustainable harvesting is not feasible. The Lunana Chimi, Gyem Tshering, said the lifting of restrictions is a boon to the Lunaps.

The geog will form Tshogpas (committees) to collectively monitor the collection and growing areas, price, presence of outsiders, and equality for all the Lunaps.

Lunana is 4600 metres above sea level

A protocol is being developed between the Gasa dzongkhag and the agriculture ministry on the harvesting, transporting, marketing, and training on sustainable harvesting of the Cordyceps in the geog. Among other things, the draft protocol says that only the bonafide residents of Lunana geog are eligible to harvest the Cordyceps.

The geog Tshogpas will be responsible for monitoring the presence of collectors from other geogs and from across the northern border.

The protocol also says that at least two of every five Cordyceps should be left undisturbed as seed plants for regeneration.

The Lunaps will sell their collection to the national institute of traditional medicine (NITM), which has been identified as the authorised buyer.

Cordyceps Sinensis
The Gasa dzongda, Chencho Tshering, who has done a research on the Cordyceps in Lunana geog said that legalising its collection would encourage the Lunaps to participate in sustainable harvesting and protection of the rare resource. He said that policing illegal collection of the plant was impossible given the difficult terrain and weather. Bhutanese and outsiders alike from across the border in the north have been illegally collecting Yartsa Goenbub despite the ban.

Poachers from across the border in Tibet enter Bhutan to collect the Cordyceps in Soe, Lingshi, and Laya areas. The villagers however did not feel the responsibility to alert the authorities, since they were not the stakeholders, he added.

Chencho Tshering said that a public meeting with the Lunaps discussed about identifying Cordyceps growing areas, avoiding third party interference, fixation of collection time, and sharing the common resources amongst the Lunaps in an equitable manner.

Cordyceps Sinensis is commonly found in the upper valleys of Phutey covering Thanza, Tenchey and Tshodzong valleys. They grow in alternate years with peak seasons lasting from end of May to July. Each stroma (one plant) weighs about 0.3 to 0.5 grams. Although the sale of Yartsa Goenbub was prohibited in Bhutan, a kilogramme of Yartsa Goenbub is believed to fetch more than Nu 30,000 when sold across the border.

According to the forest and nature conservation rule 2000, illegal collection of Cordyceps can result in a fine of up to Nu 50,000 or three years imprisonment or both.

This article was contributed by Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper 2005

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