border review | 18 July 2011

Smuggling and the absence of the state

The Himalayan Times:

Tibetan smugglers have been found involved in exporting yarshagumba illegally from Kimathanka of Sankhuwasabha to the Chinese market.

According to locals, the Tibetans in cahoots with local smugglers purchase the rare herb from the Makalu Barun National Park area for Rs 2 to Rs 6 lakh per kilogram and sell it in Dendang and Riyu of Tibet.

Yartsagunbu (as it is more commonly spelt) refers to Cordyceps sinensis, the famous caterpillar fungus known for its virility boosting effect. The fungus has an enormous impact on local livelihoods in the Himalayas and Tibet (see, for example, Daniel Winkler’s research on the topic).

Unlike the article seems to suggest, the export of Yartsagunbu from Nepal has, in fact, been legal for some years now, given that all taxes are paid and procedures followed. In addition, Kimathanka in the upper Arun valley is one of the six official border crossings between Nepal and Tibet. The problem is that during the Maoist insurgency the customs office was abandoned and has not yet been restaffed.  In this case it is the absence of state that renders a practice illegal. Where there is no customs office there cannot be legal export.