Caterpillars, silk kiras and lots of cash

Collectors unhappy with price at the auction

Cordyceps: The bucolic setting of Tsento gewog in Paro becomes a busy bazaar once in a year around this time. For two days, the gewog centre becomes a mini town with rows of temporary shops lining the entrance to the centre.

There is no tshechu (festival), but people are wearing festive mood as sesho (silk) kiras and gho are displayed. The festival this time is the Yartsa Goenbub (cordyceps senensis) auction.

On one of the entrance to the centre, Rinchen Khandu checks the lock of his briefcase. It is full with cash. Rinchen Khandu has come from Sephu in Wangduephodrang to participate in the auction. He has done that for many years.

Outside the entrance, collectors from gewogs of Tsento, Soe and Dotey are registering to participate in the auction. Potential buyers, about 40 of them stretch their neck to get a glance of the fungi, quickly checking what they came to buy.

Tandin Wangmo, 32, one of the collectors opens the Amul-cheese container to look at her year’s collection once more. “The insect is hollow, it would not fetch good price,” she says inspecting one of them for the last time.

This year, Tandin Wangmo managed to collect only about 300 pieces, less than half of what she got last year. “It was difficult this year and the quality is not impressive,” she says.

Collectors and bidder are fast seated inside. On the centre table, the fungi in different containers (one container is one lot) are displayed. Bidders and officials of the forest and park services department, agriculture marketing and cooperatives department and BAFRA segregate the displayed cordyceps into grades of A+, A, B, and C.

Grading is done based on physical inspection of the fungi.

Bidding begins with C grade at a base price of Nu 150,000 a kilogram. Highest price bid for the C grade cordyceps becomes the base price for grade B cordyceps and so on.

At a highest bid price of Nu 702,000 a kg for his A+ fungi, Tashi Chophel, 28 decide to withdraw. He is not pleased with the price. “I’ve about 350 pieces of cordyceps. At this price, I would fetch less than Nu 65 a piece,” he says. “Its too low. I would find better paying exporter outside the auction.”

The regulation is on his side this year. Until last year, collectors once registered for the auction were not allowed to withdraw their product. But collectors are happy that they could do so if they are not satisfied with the price.

Sale of the fungi outside the auction is legal so long collectors pay royalty of Nu 8,400 for every kilogram of cordyceps they collect.

“Auctioning Yartsa Goenbub has been in the bidders favour until now, we had no choice but to accept the highest bid,” says another collector Lhamo. But Lhamo sold hers at the auction.

At the end of the two-day auction 5.3kgs of cordyceps were sold from 300 households. The highest price fetched this year was Nu 752,000 per kg.  It was not good business, collectors say.

Meanwhile, outside the centre, business was equally bad for the temporary shopkeepers. They couldn’t sell single piece of gho or kira.

“Every collector is turning away saying they couldn’t fetch good money,” says shopkeeper Namkha. Pointing to the neatly displayed silk kiras, Aum Sonam Deki says not a single collector asked the price. “Last year in two days I sold at least four.”

By Nirmala Pokhrel

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