Close to 1,000 cordycep collectors from four gewogs of Kazhi, Sephu, Dangchu and Gangtey in Wangduephodrang are alleged to have encroached the gewog demarcation and trespassed into Lunana’s harvesting site.
Sources said that cordycep collectors from Lunana and Wangduephodrang are caught in an intense dispute for about three weeks now.
The rules and regulation of cordycep collection, harvesting and marketing clearly states that collection of Ophiocordyceps sinensis shall be allowed only within the respective gewog boundary or administrative jurisdiction.
It was learnt that the agriculture and foreign ministers, dzongdags of the two dzongkhags, concerned gups and government officials were air lifted to the scene yesterday.
Yesterday alone, the chopper made about 10 trips to deploy officials and security personnel at the harvesting site in Lunana from Zomlingthang in Punakha. The site is about six hours walk from Lunana village.
Due to poor connectivity, Kuensel could not contact most officials at the scene.
Lunana Gup, Kaka, who will fly to the site today, said it appears that the gups of four gewogs of Wangduephodrang have issued the permit to collect cordyceps beyond the gewog’s demarcation.
On learning about the situation, he said he immediately stopped the people from engaging in a brawl. “After informing the concerned authorities, I convinced the people to not to get involved in situations which could lead to brawls. The law will take the due course,” he said.
Except for Kazhi gup, Wangdi, who could not go to Lunana because of personal issues, all the concerned Gups from Wangduephodrang are already at the site.
He said that only one chiwog in Kazhi is eligible for cordycep collection. He said that a consultation meeting was carried out between the forest officials and the collectors before the season. People are well informed about the demarcation and other rules and regulations. “Even the permit was issued in accordance with the rules,” he said.
However, he said there are reports of some unauthorised people involved in harvesting.
In an article Gasa dzongdag Dorji Dhradhul published in Kuensel last month, he had said that this year for over a period of two weeks in May/June, Fangu in Lunana Gewog would play host to about 500 Lunaps representing all 190 households of the gewog. “This is special as it comes only once in five years,” he had said.
The dzongdag had reminded that in 2014, the situation arising from not honoring the boundary rule turned ugly leaving the Lunaps disgruntled. Lunaps believe that in 2014, they had about 700 trespassers collecting fungus in their area, while Lunaps were just about 500 and that Lunaps lost about 50 percent of their fungus to the uninvited guests from the neighbouring gewogs. “As the situation went beyond the control of the gewog and the foresters, about 25 Desuups were also mobilised,” he wrote.
For this year, the dzongdag had said that a meeting was held between the gewog and foresters at the Park’s office in Punakha on March 29 to discuss the law enforcement arrangement. “It was agreed to have five foresters each for Nadagentsa, Tshokeyna and Gangjeyphu and three for Fangu,” he had said. “They will report at the respective locations latest by May 15 and it was also agreed that the gewog administration would provide necessary support for them to be able to do the duty properly.”
The rules and regulation for collecting, harvesting and marketing Ophiocordyceps sinensis, 2014 states that the collection permits to the eligible households will be issued by the concerned gups upon verification by the concerned forest officers.
Residents of the high altitude villages who have their thram registered in the gewog administrations concerned, are eligible for collection. But only a maximum of three household members shall be eligible for collection. Each eligible household are issued three identity cards by the concerned park division offices and the IDs must be produced upon request by any forestry personnel during the collection season, transit, and sale of Ophiocordyceps sinensis, failing which shall be considered a serious offence.
The rules and regulation also states that the Gups of the concerned gewogs should ensure that the collection permits are issued only to the collection ID holders. “The concerned forest officer shall constitute a team to monitor illegal collection one month before and one month after the collection period,” it states.
Gups also have the responsibility to educate the collectors to inform the forestry personnel about any evidences and instances of intrusion and illegal collection of any forestry produce by foreign nationals across the international borders.
Should any conflict arise from the ambiguous boundaries between the gewogs, the concerned gup(s) shall resolve through Gewog Tshogchungs and Dzongkhag Tshogdes.
Violation of any of the rules shall be considered an offence and shall be dealt as per the existing and revised clauses of the Forest & Nature Conservation Rules that shall be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.
Cordycep forms almost half of non-wood forest products seized by the forest department.
One of the main reasons is the growing number of people collecting the precious fungi. Laya gewog has seen more people collect the fungi every year as families split to register as new households since each household is eligible for three collectors.
In 2017, according to the records maintained by the forest department, 3,198 collection permits were issued, but only 2,281 collectors participated in the auctions. “It is not clear if the 917 did or did not harvest the cordycep or if they sold it directly to exporters,” the cordycep marketing report published by the Department of Agriculture Marketting and Cooperatives (DAMC) states.
Harvest and sale data from 917 collectors, who did not participate in auctions could not be determined, the report stated.
A total of more than 376 kilogrammess of cordyceps worth around Nu 203m was transacted through the auction. Further almost 95 kilogrammes of cordyceps was withdrawn after the auction because of dissatisfaction with the final price while another 86.4 kilogrammes was directly exported.
The value of cordyceps that was withdrawn after auction or sold directly cannot be ascertained since they are not obligated to disclose the price to the government representatives.
In 2017, Wangduephodrang recorded the highest collection amounting to 255.36 kilogrammes, while Tashiyangtse and Lhuentse combined auctioned only 1.01 kilogrammes.
The report also highlighted that different government agencies use different kinds of reporting formats resulting in inaccuracy and inconsistency in data collection and reporting.
“Despite trying to preclude unauthorised people entering the auction area, by allocating name cards with lanyards to authorised bidders and sellers, unauthorised people still gain entry due to lax control,” it stated.