𝑩𝒉𝒖𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒆𝒔𝒆 𝑺𝒆𝒘𝒆𝒕𝒊𝒂 𝑪𝒉𝒊𝒓𝒂𝒚𝒊𝒕𝒂 𝒇𝒓𝒐𝒎 𝑳𝒂𝒖𝒓𝒊 𝑮𝒆𝒘𝒐𝒈, 𝑺𝒂𝒎𝒅𝒓𝒖𝒑 𝑱𝒐𝒏𝒈𝒌𝒉𝒂𝒓 𝒕𝒐 𝑪𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒆𝒍 𝑷𝒖𝒓𝒇𝒖𝒎𝒔 𝑩𝒆𝒂𝒖𝒕𝒆, 𝑭𝒓𝒂𝒏𝒄𝒆.
The SUBLIMAGE L’EXTRAIT, a Chanel product using an active ingredient from Swertia chirayita grown in the remote parts of Lauri Gewog under Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkag has been launched by Chanel Parfums Beaute (Chanel PB) based in France in October 2022.
The plant Swertia chirayita is a potential non-wood forest product as a source of income for the local communities in Lauri gewog under Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag. ‘Khalu’ is local name for Sewetia Chirayita.
According to the press release, “product from Chanel is an outcome of the last almost 10 years of communication, planning and research under the access and benefit sharing (ABS) collaboration between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Chanel PB”.
Presently, the Tshogpa has increased its members to 58 farmers. They started supplying to NBC since 2017, before that the villagers of lauri gewog use to collect it from forest and sale it to india directly. “It is very difficult to groom the saplings and grow the plant till 3 years with timely and seasonal care. After three years the plant has to be dried with care by placing it 2 to 3 days in the sun and after that, in shade for about a month. During this process it should be kept out of reach from smoke and water”, said Sonam Dorji, Tshogpa Chairman.
A formal group of chirayita growers are mainly from Tshothang, Rashithang, Betshaling, Wongthi, Lauri, Momring and Dungmanma who formed with fifty-eight members and it is known by the name ‘Pedmai Tshothang Ngomen Khalui Bedrur Dey’. It is a community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) group sourcing the domestically gown S. chirayita to Chanel PB and hence the plant now has a secured market under the contractual (Access and Benefit Sharing) agreement between Chanel PB and the Ministry.
The Tshogpa started cultivation since 2015, with members of 9 villagers and the harvest are sent to National Biodiversity Centre(NBC), Serbithang for export.
In the past, this plant was collected from the wild without much management plans and sold mainly to India through an open auction process fetching just about Nu. 150-200 per kg of dried material depending upon the quality. Today, after the successful cultivation research trials supported by the National Biodiversity Centre and the Department of Agriculture, Lauri farmers now grow Swertia chirayita in their backyard fields along with other crops.
With the successful domestication of Swertia chirayita, it is now sustainably sourced and used without impacting its stock in the wild. It is harvested manually after every 3 years during the flowering cycle and then researched for active ingredients for skin-restoring complex specific to Chanel PB.
The Tshogpa Chairman said that it is very challenging to dry the plant since the plant’s colour has to be maintained as green to qualify for export. Over expose to sun will turn it into red colour and any drop of water or rain will damage it and turns it into black colour which will be disqualified for export.
“Until 2019, the harvest could not meet the contract quantity of 2 tons which has to be supplied to France with the help of NBC at the rate of Nu. 750 per kilogram(kg). However, from 2020, the harvest exceeded the contract quantity and with surplus of about 1400 kg”. said the Tshogpa Chairman.
The group is guided by a by-law and it obliges the group to supply a required quantity of quality chirayita to Chanel PB annually and in the event, that they have excess chirayita they are allowed to explore additional markets.
The biggest challenge that tshogpa faces is marketing the balance harvest which does not fetch good price after so much of hard work that they put in to grow the plant and it is sold to other local Bhutanese exporters at Nu. 100 per kg. “We would be very grateful if Government could coordinate and market the balance produce so that the villagers’ hard work is rewarded well. I have looked for market in Siliguri, India to help our community so that we could fetch good rate but the rates there are also not good”, said the chairman.
“Experts from Germany tested our produced and found traces of smoke and it was rejected. Since then, we have been trying to avoid smoke but at village, somehow it is very difficult to avoid smoke and maintain cleanliness as required. The villagers and tshogpa would be grateful if government could look into it and arrange separate shed with zinc sheet to store it safely”, said the chairman on behalf of the farmers.
“At Present we have harvested Sewetia Chirayita and it is in the process of drying, around December to January it will be send to NBC, Sarbithang for export”, said one of the members.
Initially, it was only Sonam Dorji in the Tshogpa who know about the process of this farming in the village but today, there are many others members who know and guide the community in growing the plant. “As we have source of income by selling the Sewetia Chirayita, definitely our life and living standard has been enhanced comparing to the years before. Now, we can give good life to our children, educate them and raise our family with much comfort”, said a member of Tshogpa.
A farmer who grows Sewetia Chirayita from Tshothsang village, Tenzin Wangchuk said “It is very difficult to groom and take care of the plant but at the same time I feel very happy that I earn enough. I am very thankful to the government for the help they extend to us in growing and exporting it to foreign countries. Before I use to earn about Ngultrum 5,000 in a year but after joining the community, my first year income was Ngultrum 15,000. With support from government and Tshogpa the highest income I have earned is Ngultrum 90,000. Before, since our village is located in very remote and no source of income, I use to do farming and be hand to mouth. I had to borrow money from others to meet my children’s education expenses but now with good income I can give better life for my family and have enough to meet children’s education expenses. I am very grateful and happy that I made good earnings to meet my expenses and also able to save a bit.
The other benefits that this cultivation has brought to the community are capacity development in various field related to Swertia cultivation, farm tools and irrigation facilities including greenhouses, Chanel’s CSR official is also involved in this and other monetary and nonmonetary assistance which are also provided for the community. Further, the group also receives various non-monetary benefits such as capacity-building training and the supply of tools and implements required for growing S. chirayita.
From the benefits they receive from the Chanel PB, annually, the group contributes Nu. 100,000 to the Bhutan Access and Benefit Sharing Fund (BABSF) as a symbolic contribution towards conservation efforts. In addition, the group also receives various other supports to benefit the whole community. This venture has immensely benefited the group in enhancing their livelihoods, particularly in terms of supporting their children’s education. This secured income proved to be their lifeline especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when the borders were closed and the region was declared a high-risk zone with the restriction of movement outside the region.
The collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, through the National Biodiversity Centre, Serbithang and the Chanel PB on access and utilization of Swertia chirayita (locally known as Jatig/Khalu) for possible use in the cosmeceutical products started at the end of the 10th Five Year Plan that is sometime in 2013.
Chanel Parfums Beaute based in Paris, France is the only market as of now. As an interim measure, NBC is playing the role of supplier and we will be supporting them until the community confident enough to handle the business. The raw materials are being sent to Chanel through a contractual agreement between NBC and Chanel and Community and NBC.
It is hoped that Bhutan with its rich biodiversity and its good practices for conservation and sustainable utilization of its natural resources, would be able to find good partnerships in some companies and or individuals both within and outside the country to derive tangible economic benefits and enhance rural livelihood though the ABS regime. Chanel has been a successful partner in this initiative.
The ABS policy of Bhutan ensures the three most important aspects of using the natural resources of the country i.e. (1) Conservation; (2) Sustainable utilization; and (3) equitable sharing of the benefits generated by the resources of the country.