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Cordyceps business help boost rural economy but for how long?

Cordyceps - the magic worm

Dhur village in Bumthang has witnessed a radical transformation recently – all thanks to Chinese Caterpillar (Cordyceps sinensis). With legalization of Cordyceps collection to the highlanders few years ago, considerable positive impacts have been felt by the beneficiaries. This is one of the initiatives by the Hon’ble Agriculture Minister, Lyonpo (Dr.) Pema Gyamtsho, in his attempt to enable communities derive maximum benefit from the natural resource base in the Country. The fungus collection has also considerably contributed towards alleviating poverty incidences which is the main theme of the 10th Five Year Plan. The poverty in Bhutan is predominantly of a rural phenomenon and the programme targets the rural beneficiaries. That is why it has greater potential comparatively to contribute towards current plan’s thrust towards poverty reduction.
The quadrupled annual income and complete physical transformation of the Dhur village in Bumthang can be directly attributed to cordyceps harvesting. From measly income few years ago from sales of animal products, the annual income of the Choekhor gewog has multiplied to staggering 7.5 million as claimed by Mr. Jigme Dorji, Geog Administration Officer (GAO). “Cordyceps collection entails little investments since it is grown naturally in the wild as compared to potato cultivation” said, GAO. He added that the income generation at household level ranges from 20,000 to 270,000 annually.
The constructions by the majority of new and better houses by the 90 Dhur households are all due to the harvesting of so-called Yartsa Guenbup (summer plant and winter worm) or Cordyceps.  People can now afford better housing, clothing, good food and maintain better sanitary all adds up to healthy living. Cordyceps is now helping the village of Dhur realize the government’s development philosophy of Philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
However, on the flip side, it is generally believed that cordyceps has encouraged the farmers to switch on to its collection and forget the traditional agriculture practice. Mr. Sangay Wangchuk with Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Forest & Environment Conservation said that cordyceps business has become so lucrative that at least 7-8 beneficiaries are solely dependent on the trade. While some more are into trucking, taxi driving & chain saw operation business. Few have set up retail shops.
Sustainability of livelihood due to such shift is questioned. This is because the growth and survival of the Chinese caterpillars are directly related to climatic conditions. With climate change impacts being felt ever greater with times, the cordeceps may not be a sustainable and reliable source of income for the farmers. It may not be wise to forget the traditional agriculture system after all.


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