Due largely, it would seem, to the boost in income from cordyceps collection

Lifestyle: At a time when villages across the country are seeing an increasing number of people migrating to urban centres, Sephu gewog in Wangdue is seeing an increase in the number people wanting to settle in the gewog.

The gewog is not just seeing an increase in population, but also in the number of households with several new constructions.

Sephu gup Rinchen Penjore said that, from about 265 households in 2004, the number has increased to 314 today.  Except for two households that are frequented by the owners, the gewog hasn’t seen anyone leaving for urban places.

About nine new households were registered last year and eight new houses were built in the last few years. “Since I became a gup, I haven’t seen any gungtongs but many new gungpas were registered,” the gup said.  In most cases, those from other villages and districts, who marry people from Sephu, tend to buy land and settle in Sephu.

The gewog, however, has minimal land holdings, the gup said.  Only a few villagers own about two-three acres of land and a majority of them own between 15-45 decimals of land.

Naku, a Sephu villager, said the place had endured poverty issues in the past, but it didn’t push many to migrate. “For old people like me, I’d always wish my village to have a continuity of people living and working here,” he said.

Gup Rinchen Penjore attributes the increasing number of households and population to the legalisation of cordyceps collection in 2004.  The cordyceps collection has come as boon, he said, besides villagers also earning from potatoes and bamboo crafts.

Before 2004, he said, the income was low and access to market was a problem.  Today, most villages are connected with farm roads, electricity, telephone and mobile connectivity, and with good income, many own utility vehicles.

Last year, the gewog issued about 570 permits, and collected a total of about 132.68kg of cordyceps.  The highest bidder was Nu 900,000 a kg and the lowest was Nu 140,000.  The price varies, in 2013, the highest quality fetched Nu 1.2M (million), he said.

The gewog has 20 villages in its five chiwogs, and permits were issued to every three members from each household.  The average household income from cordyceps ranges from Nu 150,000 to Nu 1.2M a year.  Tangchenma, Mewlo, Kankkira and Gangrira (near Gangkarpuensum) are the cordyceps collection sites for Sephu gewog people.  It takes about two-four days on foot to reach the place.

While cordyceps collection has helped the people earn good income, it has also resulted in a decline in the number of yaks.  There are only about 1,000 yaks today, which the gup said, was a drastic drop from more than 2,000 yaks the people reared a few years ago.

The gewog is encouraging its people to focus on potato plantation as an alternative source of income. “It’s important to have a continuous source of income to keep people from migrating,” a village elderly said.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue