High Value Cash Crops

Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants under agroforestry

Medicinal and aromatic plants are not only conserved to maintain biodiversity and natural resources; indigenous and economically viable species are also cultivated within agroforestry systems. This can provide a source of income to community forest user groups and others, as well as enhancing the existing natural resources. ICIMOD is developing and demonstrating cultivation methods for a range of perennial medicinal and aromatic (spice) plants, whose leaves, fruits, or bark can be collected and sold. These include two large sites of the spice large (black) cardamom planted under (nitrogen-fixing) Alnus trees.

Shitake mushroom

Shitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes), known as ‘migra’ in Nepal, is found in hill region forests growing on hardwood logs near streams. When young, it is umbrella-shaped; at maturity it has white spots on its surface. A mature 

mushroom weighs about 80-100 gm. Delicious and nutritious, it is a popular food in China, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Taiwan. There is a great potential for cultivating shitake in mountain areas of Nepal and other parts of the Himalayan region. The technology is demonstrated at Godavari as it can be a good income-generating crop for forest user groups, private entrepreneurs, and ordinary farmers. Usually, oak billets (logs) are used, but many other hardwood billets can also produce shitake (except pine species). Essentially logs are felled in autumn or winter and inoculated with Lentinus edodes mycelium by injection into small holes drilled at intervals along the log that are then sealed. The inoculated logs are stacked in criss-cross piles in the shade and left covered with straw or sacking for about 2 months. After rainfall, the pile is uncovered briefly to allow the bark to dry and prevent growth of other unwelcome fungi. After two months, the billets are restacked in a loose crib stack or a lean-to stack. The spawn run is nearly complete when fuzzy white blotches appear at the ends of the billet or mushrooms sprout after rainfall, about 10 months after inoculation. The mushrooms are harvested after the veil breaks while the caps still have curled edges and are less than 10 cm in diameter. During cool weather, the mushrooms can be left on the billets for many days. When it is warm, growers harvest early and often to minimize bug damage and discoloration from spore discharge. Shitake mushrooms flourish in 60% or higher shade outdoors (not darkness) where ventilation is good. Water is needed several times a year but not continuously (the bark should dry out between watering to avoid destructive surface moulds). Shitake yards should be in places that can be visited daily, not too remote from other activities. Fresh Shiitake will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, but should be marketed within 4 to 5 days of picking. The mushroom contains a good blend of vitamins (A, C and D) and minerals. As little as five grams of shitake taken daily can dramatically reduce serum cholesterol and blood pressure; it also produces interleukin compounds which strengthen the immune response against cancer and virus infections.

Broom grass

In Nepal and other countries in the HKH region, there is quite a large market for broom grass (Thysanolaena maxima), a special grass used for making brooms for sweeping. The grass thrives best on marginal lands. As well as providing cash income when sold as brooms, it provides green forage for livestock, the roots promote soil conservation, and the dried stems can be used as stakes to support growing vegetables.

Seed production

Production of seed for sale can be a valuable niche activity for mountain farmers as the product is low volume and can be stored for a long time until it can be taken to market. Seed production of indigenous species is also an activity supporting genetic resources conservation. Seed production is demonstrated at ICIMOD both as an example of an income generating activity and to produce seeds for distribution to farmers and farmers groups and projects – especially rehabilitation projects, government agencies, and partner organizations from ICIMOD’s member countries.

Bamboo management

Different species of bamboo are widely used for a variety of purposes by mountain people. They are used in construction and fencing; for basketry, mats, and furniture; as food and animal fodder; and for many minor products. Bamboo makes an important contribution to the socioeconomic development of mountain people. It is important to manage bamboo clumps well to ensure good development of culms in size and number. Without proper management, the clumps become underproductive and susceptible to fungi that can reduce their vigour and even destroy them. In the conventional harvesting method, the peripheral culms are removed, which later leads to congestion at the centre of the clump and leads to extraction problems. Farmers generally prefer to cut bamboo culms at ground level and not leave a stump. However, in reality it is better to cut a bamboo culm above a node or few internodes above ground level so that it will produce more new shoots. The bamboo culms need to be harvested at around three to four years of age; after four years, fewer shoots are produced and the quality of the bamboo slowly deteriorates. The bamboo management plot was established to demonstrate better ways of managing bamboo clumps to produce more shoots and higher quality bamboo. The management methods demonstrated at the centre (traditional vs tunnel method) were tested by research institutes in China and the Forest Research and Survey Center, Nepal.

Floriculture – landscaping with indigenous and exotic flowers

An increasing number of houses and public buildings are being built in the newly expanding urban areas of Nepal, opening up a new market for decorative flowers and garden plants, and a new possibility for income generation for farmers with access to these areas. The activities at the site focus on propagation of indigenous and exotic plants for use in landscaping and decorative gardens. The results are being used in practice in the landscaping of the new ICIMOD Headquarters building and the Knowledge Park at Godavari.