Jumla youths prefer yarsa to elections

May 10, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, LP Devkota, 9th May 2017, Jumla

Most youths in Jumla are not much concerned about the upcoming local election as they are busy preparing to head for the highlands to collect yarsagumba with the harvesting season about to start.

The Himalayan fungus is prized for its aphrodisiac and medicinal properties; and for villagers in this remote corner of the country, the harvest season is the most important time of the year. The herb is one of the major sources of income for the people.

A family can easily earn Rs500,000 to Rs600,000 during the yarsagumba harvesting season that usually lasts from mid-May to mid-July. Local youths have not been taking an active part in the election campaign either because their priorities lie elsewhere.

Min Bahadur Thapa, a local of Patarasi village council, said yarsa collectors were very concerned about missing the collection window amid increased competition. A huge number of youths from Dolpa, Mugu, Jumla and Humla race towards the high mountains during this season.

“Highland locals work very hard for three months to collect yarsa as the income puts food on the table for the entire year,” said Ramesh Rawat of Patarasi, Jumla. “What changes will the election bring? Nothing! Going for yarsa collection will generate income to feed the family for a year,” said another local Prabina Rawat. Many youths in the district hold a similar view regarding the election.

“The election campaign might have heated up across the country, but that is not the case in Jumla,” said Rawat. “Because here, we need money to survive, and the election does us no good.”

It looks like yarsa collectors make a lot of money, but they have to spend a lot too. They have to pay about Rs50,000 in royalties, entry fees and other taxes. Almost all youths who go to harvest yarsa have to borrow money to pay the fees. Locals also collect yarsa because they don’t have any other livelihood.

“It is very difficult to pay your children’s education and household bills with no other source of income here,” said Hikmat Rawat, another local. A majority of the youths in this region and nearby areas go to India in the winter as seasonal workers. They spend the summer at home as it is the time to harvest yarsa.

Some youths even return from India to go to collect the herb. “The election is not a priority because it is more important to work,” said Hari Budha, a youth who had arrived from India recently.

“That is why we prefer to go to collect yarsa instead of participating in the election campaign.” Yarsagumba was first collected in Nepal at Chakure Lek of Jumla in 1952. Trading in the herb began in the late 1980s in Dolpa.