The growing number of collectors in the highlands is also attributed to the problem
Resource: The illegal collection of cordyceps has worsened the situation for highlanders who have been confronted with the sustainability of the fungus for sometime now.
Of the 22 seizures of non-wood forest products (NWFP) the forest department made in the past three years across the country, half of them involved cordyceps including four cases in Gasa dzongkhag.
The offenders were slapped penalties ranging from Nu 5,000 to Nu 300,000 for illegal collection.
Highlanders say sustainability is a serious issue with harvests fluctuating frequently. One of the main reasons is the growing number of people collecting the priceless fungi.
Laya gewog has seen more people collect the fungi every year as families split to register as new households. Each households is eligible for three collectors.
“While parks are keeping strict vigil on illegal collection, we are not sure how long it can last,” a cordycep collector from Laya, Dawa Yangchen of Tongra village said.
“If measures are not taken, we might exhaust the resource sooner,” another Layap, Kinley Dorji from Pazhi, said.
Foresters from the social forestry and extension division (FSED) have also raised similar issues in the national park conference recently.
Forester Rixzin Wangchuk said that many high value NWFPs such as Cordyceps and Paris polyphylla are currently under threat of disappearing and require more attention if the communities are to reap their benefits in the future.
Most problems regarding NWFPs, forest officials said arise due to the difficulties in constantly monitoring areas for illegal activities.
“Since field staff are limited in protected areas, it becomes near impossible to keep a proper check on activities going on in the more remote areas,” Rixzin Wangchuk said.
The country has recently recognized the potential of NWFPs to contribute towards empowering rural communities.
“Recognizing Bhutan’s present situation, we must look at NWFPs with more importance and urgency,” Rixzin Wangchuk said. “For some rural communities it may be the only source of cash income.”
High value NWFPs, such as cordyceps, also provides incentives for local people to protect their resource base.
“The new trend is more illegal activities can be identified in the western regions of the country as compared to the east,” he said.
Also, there is a larger presence of NWFP groups in the eastern part of the country than the west.
“Therefore, we can deduce somewhat, that the formation of groups can go a long way in mitigating illegal trade,” he said.
Of the total land area in the country, 70.4 percent is under forest cover. Only eight percent of the land area is suitable for agricultural production and with 69 percent of the population living in rural areas, NWFPs have a great potential for income generation, enhancing rural livelihoods and employment opportunities for the poor living in remote areas in Bhutan.
Social Forest and Extension Division officials recommended that more studies are required on harvesting regimes and their effect on regeneration, as well as on the domestication and propagation aspects.