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Bhutanese highlanders make money from caterpillar fungus

cordyceps in Bhutan

cordyceps in Bhutan

Bhutanese highlanders in the mountains earn good income every year through the sale of caterpillar fungus, commonly known as cordyceps. This year, the market price for a kilogram of cordycepse escalated up to Nu. 0.7 million.Nu 469 million earned from the sale of671kgs of cordycepssinensis, this year is the highest since the collection of the fungus was legalised a decade ago.

Although less by six kgs from last year’s collection, agriculture officials say, it’s the highest revenue earned to date.

Department of agriculture marketing and cooperatives’ director (DAMC), Dorji Dhradhul, said the figure just includes formal trading of cordyceps at various auction sites.

“These are just official export figures and we can’t get the actual quantity collected because cordyceps are also sold through informal trading, which is also legal,” he said.

DAMC recently released the figures in their marketing report.

The increase in production, according to Dorji Dhradhul, is completely dependent on weather conditions and other natural factors.

Dorji Dhradhul also attributed the reason for increase in formal trading to the subsequent increase in bidders from 22 initially to 47 this year.

Records show that price of cordyceps has also increased over the years.

The average price per kg of cordyceps in 2004 was Nu 65,000.  This year, the average price was Nu 700,000 per kg.  As is the trend, cordyceps from Lunana gewog fetched the highest price of Nu 1.3M per kg, while those from Khoma, Lhuentse fetched the lowest price of Nu 70,000.

However, of the total quantity, cordyceps sold through auction amounted to 554.6kg and about 117kg of cordyceps were withdrawn from auction.  This, officials said, could have been taken to other auction sites, exported directly or sold to individuals after the auctioning period.

DAMC officials said the revision of rules and regulation led to some people withdrawing cordyceps from the auction site.

For instance, unlike in previous years, collectors, who are not satisfied with the price being offered in the auction, can withdraw their products and then market in other auction sites, or sell to individuals after the completion of auctioning period.  They, however, have to avail the necessary documents from the respective gewog and forestry officials.

The total royalty collection amounted to Nu 5.64m, which is also one of the highest so far.

Dorji Dhradhul said that royalty has been revised to Nu 8,400/kg from Nu 7,000/kg, and it keeps increasing by 20 percent every two years.

Wangduephodrang dzongkhag saw the highest amount of cordyceps collection of 423.3kg and Lhuentse dungkhag with the lowest of 0.471g.

A total of 3,539 collection permits were issued by respective gewog administration across the country, and about 2,111 collectors participated in the auction.

However, in some dzongkhags like Gasa, collectors’ representation at auction was not even 30 percent.

DAMC observed that different cordyceps species were brought to the auction sites.

“Such cordyceps species were also mixed with the usual cordyceps, which collectors tried to sell,” stated the report.  People bringing such type of cordyceps were not allowed to participate in the auctions.

“If these species are mixed with the usual cordycep and sent to export markets, then it may have serious implications on the image of Bhutan’s cordyceps in the future,” the report stated.

Officials said a few cases of adulteration of cordyceps and presence foreign particles, such as wood pricks inside the cordyceps were also reported this year.

If it was exported, officials said, this could have led to breakage in market linkage, since it was a malpractice.

Meanwhile, DAMC also found that police personnel in some auction sites were not present, although it was necessary, considering the huge involvement of cash transaction.