Rubia, scientifically known as Rubia Cordifolia, Laniru in Tsangla, Tsey in Dzongkha, and Majito in lhotsamkha, is one of the main sources of income for the community of Gawaling village, in Lauri gewog, Samdrup Jongkhar. This year, the farmers of Gawaling earned an income of about Nu 0.76 million from the Rubia business.
People from Gawaling village, which has around 13 households consider the plant a blessing for them. A group comprising of 12 members, named Shingmen Thuenken Dendup Tshogpa was formed to operate the Rubia business.
Lhadrup Dorji, the chairman of the group said that Rubia is collected every two years and sold through an open auction to the Department of Forestry.
He said that this year, the group could purchase 1176 kilograms of Rubia from the people and make an income of about Nu 0.76mn. The price per kilogram of Rubia fetched was Nu 65. Of this, 10% is kept as a community fund.
Every two years, a member of the community collects Rubia in December and January, when the herb’s leaves are shed. According to Lhadrup Dorji, each member collects an average of 10–15 kilograms per day. However, he said that the amount collected is determined by the skill and physical strengths of the collector.
The Rubia collector members say that the collection is not very perilous in nature. Collectors do not need to be fortified with safety resources, except for hand gloves as per their choice. However, the major challenge that they face is fear of wild animals as it has to be collected from the forest.
Rubia is domestically cultivated in other parts of the world; however, there has been no trend toward cultivation or plantation of the Rubia plant in the country so far. Similarly, the residents of Gawaling do not cultivate or produce the plant; rather, they only gather it from the wild because it is considered a non-wood forest product (NWFP).
Lhadrup Dorji said that Rubia collectors in his community are aware and concerned about sustainability issues and the expected devastation of the environment. He said, “After the sensitization from the forestry division, the sustainability concerns among the collectors have risen, which helps in creating awareness among the people about preservation.”
In order to preserve and let the plant mature, Lhadrup Dorji said that they collect the plants every two years, mainly to protect it and also to let the plant mature.
Lhadrup Dorji said that in the previous year, when they used to collect Rubia every year, they could not collect more. The forest division then came out with the policy of collecting the plant every two years. He said that because of the policy, it helps them collect a larger quantity, and in turn, they are able to fetch a good amount.
Rubia collection is done in such a way that the entire roots are not uprooted or damaged. They cut only the mature stems. In the next collection, which is every two years, the sprouts develop from the roots into a mature plant, and the procedure follows.
In a day, people can collect about 100–200 bunches, which, when dried, weigh about 10 kilograms. Back at home, bunches are sliced and made into pieces, then dried under the sun.
Rubia marketing is done collectively within the group. The eligible NWFP exporters with valid export licenses are registering for the auction of Rubia cordifolia. They take it to auction yards and sell it at open auction to those who offer the highest price.
The price of a kilogram of Rubia in the previous year was Nu30–45 per kg. But this year they could get Nu 65.
Collectors say that the earnings from Rubia collections are reasonable because they don’t have to invest anything. In addition, they said that Rubia collection is not labor-intensive and doesn’t incur a heavy labor requirement or excessive work load.
Moreover, collectors needn’t worry about the market or the transportation charges, as most of the marketing is done through an open auction with permission from the Forestry Division.
Meanwhile, Gawaling community has been collecting Rubia for decades, but in a small and sustainable quantity after the Forestry Unit made the rules and regulations. The chairman said that the Rubia business assists them in meeting basic needs and in supporting education for their children.
Rubia cordifolia is a medicinal herb which is widely used in China, Japan and Australia to treat arthritis, rheumatism and dysmenorrhea amongst others.
Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu