By Shailendra Rokaya, BAJHANG: The schools of northern Bajhang, Western Nepal have completely been deserted following a mass exodus of students to go harvest Yarcha-gumba, (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) with their parents.
Not only students but also teachers have left to higher altitudes to collect the Himalayan herb, forcing nearly 44 schools to close and postpone their classes.
Yarcha-gumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), also known colloquially as caterpillar fungus, is a lucrative herb, with the potential to earn Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 1.5 million in one harvesting season.
“That is why entire villages move to the highlands to collect as much Yarcha-gumba as they can and earn a fortune,” stated Kalak Bohara, chairman of the Dailichaur Secondary School Management Committee adding, “The parents take their children with them because they are more energetic and agile and collect more Yarsagumba than adults.”
Ain Bahadur Bohara, teacher of Ishwor Lower Secondary School, Surma, informed that due to the closure, the schools would not give summer vacations in July. “Regular classes will commence at the end of June after the students are back,” he said. “This is not a new phenomenon, it happens every year.”
The market price of Yarsagumba is around Rs.1.7 million and is found in the areas of Raidhunga, Saurai, Raksha Mountain, Golden Mountain, Saipal Mountain, Kunda, Dhanseri, Parchhi and Surma Sarobar of the district.
With the adults and children gone, only the elderly, pregnant women and infants remain in the villages of Surma Rural Municipality, Saipal Rural Municipality, Talkot Rural Municipality, Durgathali Rural Municipality and Bugal Municipality. This not only affects the schools but also stagnates the development works.
The regular Yarcha season begins in April and ends in mid-August. However, due to heavy snowfall this year, the season only began in May.
But while the villagers are flocking to collect as much Yarcha-gumba as they can, businessmen are worried about how to sell them in the market.
The businessmen buy the Yarcha-gumba from the villagers at a price of Rs. 1.7 million to Rs. 2 million per kilogram from the villagers.
However, they have not been able to sell it profitably in the market. Umesh Bohara, a businessman, claimed that there was no demand for the herb, which is widely considered as an aphrodisiac, in Kathmandu. “There is high demand of the caterpillar fungus from the Chinese traders but they refuse to pay more than Rs. 1.2 million per kilogram,” he said.
This has forced the businessmen to keep their Yarcha in stock in the villages itself or sell it suffering heavy loss.
“The only solution now is for the government to buy our Yarcha-gumba and sell it in the international market,” they said.
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