Chhimi Dema 

Farmers of Lauri Gewog in Samdrupjongkhar are growing a plant which has provided them with a steady income for the past 10 years in addition to other cash crops–maize and potatoes.

Swertia chirayita (locally known as khalu) which was found in the wild is grown in farmers’ fields today. The plant is a medicinal plant native to the temperate region of the Himalayas.

Farmers of Lauri supply Swertia chirayita for use in Chanel Parfums Beaute’s (PB) cosmetics in France. Chanel PB is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of luxury fragrance, makeup and skin care products.

Chanel PB uses Swertia chirayita in their skin care product–Sublimage L’extrait which cost USD 650.

According to the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), the collaboration between the agriculture ministry and Chanel PB on access and utilisation of Swertia chirayita in cosmeceutical products started in 2013.

A 48-member group with growers from Tshothang, Rashithang, Betshaling, Wongthi, Lauri, Momring and Dungmanma under Lauri Gewog was formed to source the plant for Chanel PB.

Kinzang Wangdi, 33, from Dungmanma village in Lauri gewog, also a member of the group, said that they could earn well growing and selling khalu.  He earned Nu 30,000 this year from his sale of Swertia chirayita.

“The plant helps provide a steady source of income for us,” Kinzang Wangdi said. “The money I earned so far has helped me cover education expenses for my children and run the house comfortably.”

The plant was previously collected from the wild and sold to India for Nu 150 to Nu 200 per kilogram (kg).

The group called Pedmai Tshothang Ngomen Khaliu Bedrur Dey has to supply a minimum of 2,000 kg of Swertia chirayita annually at Nu 750 per kg. It is harvested manually after every three years during the flowering cycle and then researched for active ingredients for skin-restoring complexes specific to Chanel PB.

Dhendup Dorji, a member, said that the earnings from growing khalu make up 90 percent of their income. The rest is income from growing other crops in his field.

“Other crops are not as profitable as growing khalu. I earn at least Nu 30,000 after every three years,” Dhendup Dorji said.

This initiative, he said, has helped strengthen their income.

From the benefits the farmers receive from the Chanel PB, the group contributes Nu. 100,000 to the Bhutan Access and Benefit Sharing Fund as a “symbolic contribution towards biodiversity conservation efforts”, according to NBC.