Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Natural Forest, the Source of Livelihood for Farmers of Darilog

They are middle class farmer living just above the poverty line. Over the years, their ways of living and lifestyle has greatly improved. These farmers are from Darilog, a small village located about 75kms from the district headquarter of Wangdue Phodrang. Roads did not reach their village and power is their dream in darkness. Situated in a higher agroclimatic zone of Bhutan, cool temperate zone to be specific, the farmers there cannot grow all the cereal crops as the low land farmers do. Only cereals that they grow are wheat, barley, millet and buckwheat, besides potatoes and some other higher temperate vegetables. Besides their land holding is small and whatever they reap from there is not enough to feed the family of six (average).  Like every Bhutanese, the staple food is rice and they hardly eat the wheat floor during the meals. 
a part of Darilog village with cultivated Bamboo clumps

Though the farmers cultivate land and domesticate animals, their earnings from the two are very negligible. They started marketing potatoes just a decade ago and now potato is the only cash crop for them. But in the field of one and half acres, since its sowing in February till the harvest period in July, nearly half of the yield is lost to monkeys during day and pigs, porcupines and deer at night despite regular sanctuary given by a family member. Therefore, the fruit they reap just cross the economic threshold and it is not very cost-effective. From the animals they domesticate, their few heads of cow are just enough to meet the basic requirement of butter and cheese for their diet though they sell a little surplus during summer months. Therefore, their life is difficult to sustain depending on their limited resource. 

Now you might be wondering how I consider those farmers a middle class family when the source of income they have is very limited. You might be wondering how they manage to get rice to sustain their ration throughout the year and how their lifestyle has improved when they lack the basic necessity of power to light their home and road to reach their goods. Here comes the secret about the source of their income, The Natural Forest. The farmers are living in close harmony with forest for ages and it has been the major source of income for them. It is the natural forest, which keeps their home warm during winter, feed their animals during scarcity of food, provides fiber for making ropes, etc. The forests endow them with fences and agricultural implements, and serve as pastureland for their domestic animals. 

The temperate forest nearby the village comprises mainly of pines, spruce, hemlock, oaks, etc… and climbing a little higher, they encounter fir, juniper and rhododendrons, which serve as home to myriad of mushrooms and other wild vegetables. The villagers collect more than fifteen different species of mushrooms every summer either for self-consumption to supplement their garden vegetables or for small-scale sale. The availability of good number of trees nearby their village is a great blessing for them as it provided them with timber for construction of houses and other furniture. 

The swift flowing Nikkachhu below their village being clean and unpolluted in nature, grows a lichen known as Chhuru in local term which is edible. Grown on the stones in river in autumn months, it is collected by hand and dried in the sun to form circular shapes. The piece though small can fetch them at least Nu. 5 and it is highly demanded in the vegetable markets in other part of the country owing to its pureness and cleanness. The river Nikkachhu which flows below their village is very clean owing to the pristine peaks in the north, thick forest nearby the banks and hardly any sewage and wastes are disposed in that river until it reaches the lower valley when many small roadside shops use it for disposal f wastes. 

Bamboo is referred to as poor man’s timber but in that village, it serves as the backbone for their survival. Four different species are found there but the one which serves as backbone is the bamboo species known by botanical name Borinda grossa. Since time immemorable the farmers there use the bamboo for knitting beautiful crafts and baskets. After making these bamboo crafts they take these items to lower valley of Shaa and Punakha during harvesting season for exchange of rice through bartering. In this way, most of them are able to collect rice, which could feed them for a year in ease. This good tradition is still practiced by the farmers and now each household have cultivated their own bamboo clumps by their house to sustain forever. 
bamboo mat

Weaving of bamboo mats is another lucrative job. The farmers of the village during winter when they are free of field and household works collect bamboos from the nearby forest and they weave bamboo mats, which could earn them Nu.200 per piece. An average person can finish five bamboo mats in in a day. Thus, the sale of bamboo item is a great source of income for them to supplement their other needs. These mats are used as fences, roofing and to build temporary huts. Besides this bamboo is also used for high-quality woven handicraft products, such as food and drink containers, hats, arrows, quivers, etc. winter and dry season livestock fodder, and edible shoots.

The farmers of the village though deprived from growing many food crops and cash crop due to higher elevation, they are never the unfortunate ones. Rather they are more fortunate. The Royal Command issued by His Majesty the fourth King on 17th June 2004 granted the peoples living in higher altitude of northern Bhutan, the privilege to collect Cordyceps sinensis (commonly known as Yartsa Goenbub), a fungus grown in the alpine scrub forests, so their being highlander is a blessing in disguise. At least two members from each household can go for collection of the highly valued medicinal herb. 

Though the journey is tedious, having to travel for three to four days carrying the ration and necessities that would last them for a month at ones back, the income they generate from a month long struggle is huge. They say kneeling down on the rocky pebbles in an icy cold place is painful but it is worth enduring. Though it is very difficult to collect a kilo of cordyceps, the value of it is awesome. But if one is lucky one can get as many as three to four Kgs. A kilogram of cordyceps would earn them Nu.20,000 to Nu.4,00,000 depending on the quality. 
Just a couple of years ago, the houses in the village were mostly one storeyed with shingle roofing, darkly painted with sooty smokes but now it is replaced by newly constructed double storeyd traditional Bhutanese house with CGS roofing. Their homes are illuminated with solar tubes and the walls are painted with colorful phalluses. Some of them even own cars. During every festivals and meetings, the village folk would present themselves with the best attire. The way of living and lifestyle is greatly improved. 

Asked anybody from the village for such a drastic change and they would simply thank the natural forest, (Rangzhen Nyetang ge Kadren). This is why they really value the natural assets that they were bestowed by almighty. They still believe that many sites dominated unknown spirits and do not cause much harm to the natural forest. They take every precaution to prevent forest fires and they protect the endemic birds and animals dwelling in their forests. In recent years they became aware of the consequences of global warming and climate change so in order to conserve their assets for better sustainability and to reduce the impact of climate change, they eagerly wait for the creation of their forests into Community Forest. They take part in plantation activities in along with their children in school during important days like Social Forestry Day. Yet the recent flowering of bamboos and consequent dying of it in their locality have pinched a threat in their mind. “No need to worry. The bamboos with grow again within ten years.” I tell them. 

photo courtesy: google images except the first one.


  1. Lovely Piece. May I Run This In The Journalist? Cheers! Jurmi Chhowing, Editor, The Journalist.

  2. It would be a pleaure, giving such a platform for me to share. You may go ahead la. Thank you for visiting my stuffs, Jurmi sir.

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  5. Sorry, there was mistake in earlier post.
    Dear Leo,
    Great read and writing. I appreciated the passion that you have in the subject that you are pursuing.
    Out of curiosity just a few comments and questions:
    Is the bamboo used for weaving “Balep” Yushinia malinga? (I don’t have the slightest idea of the name of the bamboo used by the people of that community). I was of the notion that Yushinia’s generally does not grow tall like other bamboos. I was once told by someone that it was Borinda. I am sure that people might be worried with rampage flowering of bamboos as it seems to be one of the important livelihoods for the people of that community.
    On Cordyceps, the scientific name has been recently changed to Ophiocordyceps sinensis, owing to the difference in the generic differences between Cordyceps militaris and C. sinensis. When the Cordyceps harvesting was legalized in 2004, only one person per household was allowed a permit to harvest which later was issued to the entire potential harvester in a household. Very recently (2008) the rule has been changed to issuing three permits per household to collect Cordyceps.
    Cordyceps has indeed helped in improving livelihood of high alpine dwellers of Bhutan. You will be surprised to know that (from one of my study) people of 6 gewogs (403 collectors) made total earnings of Ngultrum 10.03 million from 2004-2009. But on the other hand it is leading to the faster rate of Rhododendron removal. When I conducted ring analysis of the Rhododendron, I found that a Rhododendron took nearly 169 years to reach the diameter of 8 cm. I used that sample to create awareness among the collectors of Chokor Gewog in Bumthang, and I guess I succeeded to certain extent. I am still working on (writing proposal to various potential donor agencies) expanding the study to reconstruct the history of climatic pattern in alpine Bhutan using the Rhododendron ring techniques.
    Once again, Great piece. Keep going, Department needs people like you. Looking forward to working together.

  6. Sorry, I couldn't figure out on italicizing scientific names.

  7. Regarding the Bamboo species I was also confused because all I studied were about the species found in subtropical and tropical regions. I once heard one of my CNR friends naming that species, so I considerdd it( I will try and get it correct la ). On cerdyceps, I was not aware of that change. I came to learn only today la. Thanks for the info.
    For sure collection of cordyceps would really hamper the pristine alpine ecosystem. Usually at those elevations trees are not found so people might be burning even plastics for cooking ( who knows) and for sure they wont leave the rhododendrons and juniperus species aroud thier camps. I also heard that people dig out the soil in search of the fungus and by doing so they are not only collecting the immatured fungus but also hampering their sustainibility. Since the herbal medicine is of such a great economic importance, there is a need for the commoners to learn how to sustain it and they are need to be informed regarding the importance of fragile alpine ecosystem.
    I am very thankful to Sangay sir your valuable comment and infos. keep visiting la.

  8. interesting and informative writing la