Villagers of Genekha have suffered devastating impact from the Covid-19 pandemic as export of Tricholoma Matsutake fell close to 70 percent.
Matsutake, locally known as Sangay Shamu, is the sole source of income for the Genekha community.
More than 300 villagers set out into the Matsutake rich forest at the foot of Dagala although less than 126 people are registered as Matsutake pickers with Ge-Nyen Shamu Zinchong Tshogpa, a mushroom harvester committee.
The committee collects a royalty fee of Nu 50 for every kilogram (Kg) of Matsutake sold. This year, the committee collected Nu 167,000 in royalty. Last year, it collected Nu 500,000.
The price of mushroom was more or less the same although it suffered a little fluctuation in between.
The Chairman of the committee,Kencho Tshering said that the price for the best mushroom (grade A) once dropped to Nu 1,000 per Kg but the pickers refused to sell. Then it increased to Nu 1,400. Grade B mushroom was sold for Nu 600 last year. Grade B was sold for Nu 500 and grade C earned Nu 300 a kg this year.
Gyem from Tshocheykha has been harvesting Matsutake and making a living out of it for the past 30 years.
The income helped her send her children to school, roof her house with CGI sheets, and perform the annual rituals.
Last year, she along with her two family members made more than Nu 300,000. This year, even with four of her family members combined, they couldn’t earn more than Nu 150,000.
She said: “Mushroom yield was great. But we lost our income as the lockdown happened during the height of harvest season.”
The villagers were worried when they learnt that there was only one mushroom buyer this year. “The exporters have worked in the interest of the villagers. They could have taken advantage of the situation and reduced the rates. If they gave up, we would have suffered even more,” said Gyem.
Villagers said that they couldn’t trust mushrooms alone hereafter. They want to focus equally on potato cultivation.
Some villagers in desperate situations took Matsutake secretly to the local market despite the strict community rule prohibiting it. A few of them sold dried Matsutake for Nu 500 a packet.
Kencho Tshering, said that villagers depend on two national mushroom exporters; Matsutake Ugyen Exports (MK pvt.ltd.) and Tashi Commercial Corporation (TCC). But TCC didn’t purchase it this year.
The committee signed a contract with MK Pvt. Ltd. to sell their products for two months from July 25 to September 25.
“The market was rocky and our lone purchaser faced a difficult situation too. Moreover, the market ended so fast, lasting merely a month due to Covid-19 lockdown,” said Kencho Tshering.
The exporter, MK Pvt. Ltd claimed that the company operated suffered a loss of Nu 6 to 7 million this year.
The exporter said the export was sluggish because of international flight issues and higher cargo charges. He said: “We could only send 9 consignments to Japan this year which cost almost Nu 3 million in cargo fare. It’s the double the cost this time.”
The company exported more than 4,500Kg of fresh Matsutake to Japan and Singapore last year. But this year they could only send 2,604Kg to Japan.
“We could have sent more if we didn’t lose 21 days in lockdown. We cancelled seven consignments. And the community rule turned down our request to extend mushroom picking time although mushrooms were still there.”
“Despite the loss, we’ll continue exporting Matsutake to our partner buyer in Japan next year. We think the yield will be better next year.”