23 May 2018

Pathway out of poverty for upland communities in Nepal: “high altitude gold”

This news is redirected by The Secretariat for Development Cooperation at SCIENCE from Copenhagen Center for Development Research.

In Nepal, highland communities are reaping incomes, which were unthinkable only 15 years ago. The collection and trade of yarsagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) has contributed to larger economic transformations than any development scheme has ever done in the region. Endemic to the grasslands and alpine meadows of the Tibetan Plateau and high valleys of the Himalaya, yarsagumba is a fungus-caterpillar complex, which has a long history of use in Tibetan and Chinese medicines, prescribing it as a powerful tonic. More recently, its aphrodisiac properties have been the main factor driving a surge in Chinese demand and the associated sharp increase in price. Currently, a single 5 cm long piece of yarsagumba, weighing a fraction of a gram, is said to cost up to 50 USD in retail shops in China; this price is currently higher than the price of gold on the international market.

Yarsagumba collectors have managed the resource on their own to a high degree, without any policy support in Nepal or support from external donors, to the point that some researchers have called this an “indigenous form of ‘sustainable development’” (Childs and Choedrup, 2014). In this brief, we summarize results from a study quantifying yarsagumba collectors’ income and discuss possible ways of maintaining and increasing local incomes from yarsagumba trade. Filling in this knowledge gap is essential to support yarsagumba-related development initiatives in high altitude regions of Nepal. Recent published research by Pouliot et al. (2018) contributes to answering these questions. It is based on intensive field work in Darchula District of Nepal (Figure 1) for the case year 2014-2015. All Village Development Committees where yarsagumba is collected were visited, and collector focus group discussions (n=7), individual collector interviews (n=56), traders interviews (n=45, all yarsagumba traders in Darchula), and central wholesalers interviews (n=9, all yarsagumba central wholesalers in Nepal) were conducted.

Read the full policy brief here.

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