Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

The broom business is wearing away at both ends. There is no market and the production of the tiger grass, Thysanolaena maxima, locally known as tsakusha grown to make brooms, is decreasing. 

A group of farmers, Batasay non-wood forest product plantation group in Kilhorthang gewog, Tsirang started growing the grass in a two-acre land in 2011. Chairperson of the group, Kishore Chapagai said that the plants which are expected to last for more than a decade are now gradually not growing. 

For increased production, fertilisers are required or the place of cultivation has to be changed, he said. 

In 2018, with support from Helvetas, another three acres of land was brought under cultivation. The 12-member group had good returns from the sale of brooms within the country and in India. “In the past, we had good markets in places like Thimphu and Bumthang,” said the chairperson. 

 Annually, the group could sell about 3,500 bundles of brooms, from which the income is divided among the members.  Last year, the group sold 1,200 bundles. Each bundle costs about Nu 40. 

The availability of cheaper long-lasting plastic mops and brooms is another reason for the dwindling market.

The chairman Tashiling Sarued-Kagthap Detshen in Semjong gewog, Purna Bahdhur, also said that the broom business was affected by the pandemic. With 20 members, 11 acres of community forest was brought under broom cultivation in 2013. “We could sell more in 2019.”

Kishore Chapagai said broom grass helps prevent soil erosion and stabilises slopes because of its strong web-like rooting system. “There are agro-ecological benefits such as preventing deforestation and providing fodder for cattle.”

He said that even if the income from commercial broom production declines, people would cultivate it as fodder. Most of the residents in the area are dependent on livestock. 

It takes about three years until the plant matures. The broom is harvested in the winter. 

A member of the Batasay non-wood forest product plantation group, Nima Zangmo said that earlier, they collected the plants from the forest and were then raised in a nursery. It is difficult to transplant due to its strong roots. “It needs tending and proper care for two years as vermin feeds on it but is a good source of income.”

The members have to pay Nu 200 to the group in a year. 

The locals also use the plant for hindu and shamanistic rituals. It is believed that during the cleansing rituals, shamans would trap the evil spirits in the leaf. The teeth mark on the leaves of the plant is believed to be that of witches. 

Buddhists believe that the Buddha used this grass to make the meditation seat on which he attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree. It has a particular symbolic significance in Buddhist practice and is used in various rituals.

With its rich biodiversity, the non-wood forest products such as cane, bamboo, honey, and incense, have played a significant role in giving additional income to locals in the dzongkhag.