Cordyceps: A week ago, Dangchu gewog in Wangdue issued cordyceps collection permits to 250 people.

Before the permits were issued, local leaders thoroughly briefed the collectors on the rules and regulations regarding collection, and on how not to encroach on other gewog and district areas.

Such briefings were given, following last year’s experience, where more than 100 people from Dangchu were found collecting in Lunana.  Wangdue district officials and foresters had to call them back, and local leaders were blamed for allowing the encroachment to occur.

After discussing the issue at both the tshogdus of Gasa and Wangdue, it was resolved after reaching the office of the home minister in January this year.

Dangchu gup Sonam Dorji said the briefing was necessary to avoid similar conflicts.  However, he explained that the Dangchu people encroached Lunana because in 2012 and subsequent years, people from Lunana and other places used to encroach Dangchu areas.

Sonam Dorji said Dagchu’s collection areas include Thangchen, Tangchulay, Yango, Balaymarp and Metha-Chutha.

In Sephu gewog, local leaders said they had issued collection permits to 680 people since May 18.  Sephu has one of the highest collection areas.  Some of the well-known areas are Metha-Chutha, Thangchhenma, Ganggira, Kilkhorthang, Gangjuna and Sinthang.

Sephu gup Rinchen Penjore said Metta-Chhutta falls on the Lunana border, Kilkhorthang on the Bumthang border, and Gangira falls on the Chinese border.

In Kashi gewog, only baldrops, highlanders, were permitted to collect.

Gup Rinchen Penjore said they had faced several encroachment issues and, in 2004-2005, even encountered encroachment issues from the Chinese border.  Last year, the gewog issued 603 permits, of which 570 people went for collection.

In Gasa, Khatey gup Pem Dorji said they would be issuing permits only by the first week of June, as they have to wait for the snow to melt.  About 600-900 people from four gewogs of Gasa will be permitted to collect cordyceps fungus, going by the rule of three people from each household.

After the legalisation of cordyceps collection in 2004, it has become one of the highest income earning sources for highlanders and other villagers in gewogs like Sephu, Dangchu, Kashi in Wangdue and Laya, Lunana and Khatoe and Khamoed gewogs in Gasa.

But the increase in collectors has also resulted in soaring encroachment issues among gewogs and dzongkhags.

Last month, when Wangdue dzongkhag held a daylong special tshogdu, the issue of not having a proper boundary was again raised.

Some local leaders also questioned the land commission on how the gewog’s boundary was surveyed in 1988 and 1989, while others raised doubts on the boundary maps drawn using Google maps.

Sephu gup told Kuensel that people started caring about boundary after the collection was legalised.

Before legalisation, except for highlanders rearing yaks and horses, people chose not to make boundary an issue.  He said this was because more area meant more work, for people had to contribute labour to clear road, cut grasses and carry loads when a guest visited the community.

Meanwhile, forest range officer Chencho said they have sent six foresters from Wangdue division this time in addition to the 20 Wangchuck centenary park staff from Trongsa to monitor the collection in three gewogs of Dangchu, Kashi and Sephu.

He said, the foresters checked if the collectors were permitted or not and also monitor the harvest.  If there are three cordyceps in one place, they allow the collector to pick only one.  They also restrict usage of tools, digging and manage waste pollution, Chencho said.

However, he said, not having a clear land and stone boundary for collectors and gewogs, makes it difficult for foresters to implement the rules.

“Every collection season, we come across people, who enter illegally or unknowingly into the other’s area,” officials said.

Foresters seize collections, tents and bags, if found illegally collecting or ineligible to collect in the particular place.  However, Chencho said, when they come across Tibetan encroachers, they explain the rules and send them back.

Agriculture records show that a total of 671kg of cordyceps sinensi worth about Nu 469M was auctioned last year, making it the highest price the fungus has fetched since 2004.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue