Impacts of Yartsa Gunbu Harvesting on Alpine Ecosystems in the Barun Valley, Makalu-Barun National Park, Nepal
Around 2003, the highly valuable medicinal fungi Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Nepali: yartsa gunbu) began to be commercially harvested in the remote Barun valley of the Makalu-Barun National Park and Buffer Zone, eastern Nepal. Since then, an estimated 3,000 collectors per year have visited the valley each harvesting season, placing new pressures upon its subalpine and alpine landscapes. A review of the yartsa gunbu literature suggested that its harvesting throughout highland India, Nepal, Bhutan, and China has brought important economic benefits, but that it has often been accompanied by a corresponding increase in negative environmental impacts such as alpine shrub destruction, wildlife poaching, and improper garbage disposal. Adverse social impacts reported have included an increase in violence, occasional murder, and the erosion of traditional values. In an attempt to determine if similar phenomena were occurring within the Barun valley, east Nepal, we conducted a month-long study of yartsa gunbu harvesting practices between May and June of 2016. Unlike other regions of the Himalaya, we found that violence and social unrest due to harvesting competition were unheard of in the Barun, which we link to the (a) lower market value of yartsa gunbu harvested there when compared to other regions, and (b) the recognized role of yartsa gunbu as a supplemental and livelihood diversifying income generation opportunity instead of a sole source of new income. Since its collection and sale were legalized by the Government of Nepal in 2001, the concurrent development of locally responsive yartsa gunbu harvesting policies and practices can also be linked to the general absence of environmental disturbance that we found.
Copyright (c) 2019 Alton C. Byers, Elizabeth Byers, Milan Shrestha, Dambar Thapa, Bidhya Sharma
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