Putao Residents Risk Lives Searching for Chinese Herb

By Network Media Group
Monday, September 11, 2023

Over nine people have fallen to their deaths since August while collecting a valuable herbal plant that’s native to Putao’s ice-capped mountains, located in northern Kachin State.

A local man told NMG on condition of anonymity that a girl died last week collecting Baychi herbal tubers, and another two people from the same family are still missing, along with an additional five people, also in the same period.

“It’s too risky. Sometimes we have to climb on steep stone. Most of the accidents happen when climbers are descending. It’s difficult to find Baychi herbal tubers on the mountain.”

The rare plant, locally called Lang Pawt, only grows on mountains over 6,000 feet, and the season started more than two weeks ago. You can only find them when the ice melts between August and October.

The price of dried Baychi fetched 9 lakh kyat per viss in 2022, down from 11 lakh in previous years.

“We do not know how to use Baychi herbal tubers and send them to the Chinese market…We heard they use it as herbal medicine, which we don’t know how to make,” he said.

The man said they need money and are willing to risk their lives to find the plant. Last year, over 10 people were killed collecting it, including a pregnant woman, and more than 20 died in 2021.

As the economy continues to worsen and there are fewer jobs in the region, more people are willing to ascend the mountains to look for it.

“Prices of Baychi are fluctuating. However, despite the dangers associated with collecting, people are willing to search for it on the mountain because there are no other job opportunities here.”

Baychi and other herbs like Sheepati, Khan Tauk root, Hkamara, and Serchi grow on Hkakabo Razi, Hpungan Razi, Hpunyin Razi, Madoi Razi mountains.