The increased number of the Cordyceps collectors every year poses a threat to the sustainability of the resource.
A survey conducted by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment found that the collectors were ignorant about the threat and also seemed least bothered by it.
An official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) said,” The collectors are living with the notion that Cordyceps has been there before and will continue to be.”
“With such a notion, it could mean either the collectors are not concerned or they are trying not to voice concerns fearing the consequences of government policies banning its harvest in the future,” he added.
Only a few of the collectors have expressed concerns like the need to introduce a system which allows Cordyceps collections on an alternate years’ basis.
A 39-year -old man from Sephu, Wangdue Phodrang said, “Year by year we are not able to collect the amount of Cordyceps which we used to collect in the earlier years. I think government should intervene before the fugus vanish.”
Prior to 2004, harvesting of Cordyceps was allowed only in Lunana, but later on June 17, 2004, a Royal Decree allowed the yak herders stationed in high pastures to collect a limited amount of Cordyceps. There were also various measures in place to restrict the overall harvest which included a ban on collection during the months of Mid May to Mid June.
The policy of allowing only one person from a household was lifted in 2008, allowing three people from a household to engage in collections during the specified season.
Some of the collectors The Bhutanese talked to said illegal harvesting of the Cordyceps by the poachers from across the border is one factor posing as a threat to the sustainability of Cordyceps in Bhutan.
With many of the harvest sites of the Cordyceps being near the porous northern border areas of the Tibetan plateau, people from across the border were reportedly harvesting Cordyceps illegally in Bhutan.
Sighting of such poachers is not a surprise for the local collectors. Despite strict monitoring by the forestry and army officials, the trend seems to continue. In 2008, 13 Tibetan poachers were apprehended.
Cordyceps collection was legalized in 2004, and ever since then, the collectors have earned substantial income from the sale of the valuable and high in demand fungus. Government’s role has been found to be vital, especially in terms of creating awareness for sustainable harvesting practices.
Records with the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) shows a total of 235.89 kilograms of Cordyceps worth Nu 169.60mn were transacted in seven different auction sites across the country in 2012.
The government earned a total royalty of Nu 1.65mn last year.
The highest price fetched per kilogram of Cordyceps was about Nu 1.2mn from Lunana while the lowest price was fetched from Tshento gewog in Paro which was Nu 51, 000 last year.
A total of 38 buyers were registered with the FCB to participate in the Cordyceps auction in 2012 after depositing Nu 50, 000 as security amount.