2021
  • Non-ICIMOD publication

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Wood for thought? Untold consequences of the Himalayan gold collection in the Central Himalaya

  • Kesang Wangchuk, Janita Gurung, Binaya Pasakhala, Prashant Thapaliya, Kamala Gurung, Pradyumna J.B. Rana
  • Summary

Every year, in the Central Himalaya, the caterpillar fungus collectors collect fuelwood from the alpine shrublands to meet their energy needs for cooking and heating. The fuelwood collection continues unabated, and its long-term impact on the alpine ecology is still less understood. We conducted a questionnaire survey and fuelwood measurements in the summer of 2019 at the 'open-access' and 'closed-access' collection sites of caterpillar fungus in the Kailash Sacred Landscape of Nepal in the Central Himalaya. The ‘open access collection site’ referred to the site being accessible to any Nepali citizen from anywhere upon the payment of the collection fee. The ‘closed collection site’ referred to the site being accessible only to members of a particular community. The study objectives were to estimate fuelwood consumption by fungus harvesters and ascertain if fungus collection time and the number of people in a tent have an influence over fuelwood consumption in two sites. We randomly selected thirty harvesters in each fungus collection site for the study. The study results were supplemented by the satellite images to understand decadal changes in shrub cover at closed and open access collection sites. The open-access site had a more significant number of people in a tent, a longer length of stay, and a greater fuelwood consumption. The duration of stay at the open-access site far exceeded the recommended period of one month for harvesting the caterpillar fungus. On the contrary, the length of stay at the closed collection site was one month. The open-access site had a daily consumption of six kilogram fuelwood, and the closed site consumed four and a half kilograms of fuelwood daily. The decadal decline in shrub cover was higher in the open-access site. The study suggests that the current practices of fuelwood removal may be unsustainable and likely to deplete the alpine shrublands, and ultimately harm the caterpillar fungus, especially at the open-access collection sites. There is an urgency to replace the current fuelwood resource use practiced by collectors with more sustainable energy systems. Moreover, it is imperative to address this issue holistically through stringent policies that regulate the number of people and days spent at collection sites.

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