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On Himalayan Hillsides Grows Japan's Cold, Hard Cash

·1 min

The views are spectacular in this corner of eastern Nepal, between the world’s highest mountains and the tea estates of India’s Darjeeling district, where rare orchids grow and red pandas play on the lush hillsides.

But life can be tough. Wild animals destroyed the corn and potato crops of a farmer born near Mount Everest. They gave up on those plants a dozen years ago and resorted to raising one that seemed to have little value: an evergreen, yellow-flowering shrub found wild in the Himalayas. Farmers grew it for fencing or firewood.

They had no idea that bark stripped from this shrub would one day turn into pure money. This unusual trade involves one of the poorest pockets of Asia supplying a primary ingredient for the economy in one of the richest.

The Japanese love their old-fashioned yen notes, and this year they need mountains of fresh ones. So the farmers have a lucrative reason to hang on to their hillsides.