Conversations with Makalu-Barun National Park officials, lodge owners, yarsa middlemen and harvesters showed that there are about 3,000 people who come to collect the fungus here every spring. Unlike in other regions in Nepal, they do not leave behind much trash, carry in their own fuelwood, and cannot remember any violence.
Sherpa families from Tashigaon have been camping and harvesting yarsa here for years. Young men from Seduwa sleep in teahouses in the Valley and hike up 1,500m to the meadows each morning to pick yarsa. There are laughing school children on holiday, and everyone seems to have a good time.
The main reason for the peaceful, non-competitive atmosphere is that the quality and value of yarsa in the Makalu-Barun region is not as high as that from Tibet or Dolpo. In 2016, a kilogram of Makalu yarsa fetched only $4,800 from the local middleman, as compared to $21,120 for the famously large, yellowish, and pungent smelling Dolpo yarsa.
Furthermore, instead of representing up to 90% of a family’s income as it does in Dolpo, yarsa harvests here yield the same income as portering, raising livestock, lodge management or work at Makalu Base Camp that paid $20 per day. With the collapse of trekking this season, however, there could be more pressure.
In the Barun Valley, yarsa has been just one more source of income in an already diversified economy. Income from yarsa has just not been worth fighting over.
More importantly, villagers, the Buffer Zone Council, and the local government have developed a system to manage yarsa harvests that is fair and equitable.
As a result the stunningly beautiful but fragile Barun Valley ecosystem remains largely undisturbed and intact.