Tricholoma Matsutake, locally known as Sangay Shamu, is the economic lifeline of the people of Genekha in Thimphu. Sangay Shamu from Bhutan goes to Japan, Singapore and other countries.
But, Covid-19 has hampered the Matsutake export. The people of Genekha so have stopped picking the mushroom.
Karma Gyeltshen, Genekha Gup, said that the Gyenyen Shamu Zinchong Tshogpa, a mushroom collectors’ association, had put the brakes on the Geneps from picking the mushrooms. He said: “Matsutake collection is halted for now because of irregular Matsutake export situation. The Tshogpas only let the villagers pick the mushroom when the exporters ask for more supply.”
Passang Gyem, 31, from Tshocheykha, has been collecting Matsutake from the nearby forests since she was six years old. She said that Genekha was like an abandoned village during mushroom picking season unlike today.
Passang’s mother, Tshewang Dem, is one of the most reputed mushroom collectors from Zamtok. Last year, she made more than Nu 300,000 by selling the Matsutake. She said, “We bought winter essentials with the earning from Matsutake.”
The people used to gather Matsutake twice a day and sold them in the evenings to the two exporters almost every day. But this year, only one exporter visited Passang’s village.
“The yield looks promising but the market is the biggest concern this year. We don’t want to be black sheep in the community going against our tshogpa. We will wait and trust our tshogpa to come up with some better idea,” she added.
The people reportedly are not even allowed to sell the mushroom in the local market. The Gup said: “We will conduct a meeting soon. If the export fails, we must bring the Matsutake to the Centenary Farmers’ Market.”
Nim Dorji, a 19-year-old student of Wangbama Central School, is also one of the mushroom hunters. He could sell four kilograms of Grade A Matsutake worth Nu 1,400 per kilogram. He said: “I blame Covid-19. I am here in the wheat field instead of collecting Matsutake.”
Kaden Sari, 41, from Drubsi said that she was tempted go into the wild to check her favourite spot to collect mushroom. Once, she even had to escape a bear attack. “Matsutake collection is so much easier than the farm works.”
Matsutake harvest season starts in July and ends by October. Normally, the first export to Japan happens around mid-July. This year, the first consignment to Japan, by Ugyen Exports, was sent on July 28.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ugyen Exports, Karma Dhendup, said that export got delayed because of flight arrangement issues. Last year, his company exported Matsutake thrice a week. “We need to maintain the freshness of the Matsutake. We cannot buy it daily from the farmers like we used to,” he said.
Usually Ugyen Exports send out 10 kilograms of Matsutake in the first consignment but this year it could send 280 kilograms of Grade A mushrooms. Karma Dhendup said: “It’s just a trial shipment. We are anticipating feedback from the Japanese importers.”
Said Karma Dhendup: “I don’t think exporting Matsutake would be big issue as we have already figured another networking flight from Bangkok to Japan. We will send consignments in bulk this time. But let’s see how it works out.”
Ugyen Exports sent 4,500 kilograms of Matsutake last year.