Cross-border trade through the Korala border crossing in Nepal’s Upper Mustang, which abuts China’s autonomous region of Tibet, remains halted amid the second wave of Covid-19 in Nepal. This has affected the export of pashmina, a local product of Upper Mustang, to Tibet, rue the locals.
Chinese authorities organize a cross-border trade fair twice a year, in June and August, for residents of Mustang to sell their products such as pashmina and yarsagumba. But the fairs, which were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic last year, have also been put off this year.
“Before the corona crisis, we could sell a kilo of pashmina fiber for Rs 7,000. Last year, it was difficult to sell it even at Rs 2,000. The situation is the same this year, but the state will not compensate us,” says Wangel Gurung, a resident of Choser.
The livestock business is the main source of income for most farmers in Lomanthang and Loghekar Damodarkund villages of Upper Mustang located at an altitude of 4,200 m above the sea level. Farmers of Upper Mustang have been rearing sheep and goats for centuries as the crop yields are not enough to sustain their livelihood throughout the year.
The people of Upper Mustang move to lower altitudes during the winter to trade their produce and involve themselves in animal husbandry in the rainy season.
Narbu Gurung, a livestock farmer of Lomanthang, says all trade has come to a standstill since the border was closed following the Covid-19 outbreak last year.
Upper Mustang farmers used to export around 10 truckloads of pashmina a year to Tibet.
However, with the border closure, they don’t have any other place to send their produce, which is used to make various garments by processing and extracting yarn.
The Chinese side is closely monitoring the border checkpoint of Mustang due to the fear of importing Covid-19 from Nepal. It has urged its citizens not to go to border areas and Nepali border residents not to visit Korala.
Following the border closure, residents have been forced to ferry essentials via the Beni-Jomsom road. This is more expensive than buying essential items from Korala, they say, hoping the border crossing would be opened as soon as Covid-19 cases go down in Nepal.