From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Caterpillar fungus
Mains level : NA
Trade and collection of ‘Himalayan Gold’ — caterpillar fungus has become extremely popular in recent times.
- Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps Sinensis) is a fungal parasite of larvae (caterpillars) that belongs to the ghost moth.
- It is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, including the adjoining high Himalaya (3,200-4,500 metres above sea level).
- It is locally known as Kira Jari (in India), Yartsagunbu (in Tibet), Yarso Gumbub (Bhutan), Dong Chong Xia Cao (China) and Yarsagumba (in Nepal).
- In the Indian Himalayas, the species has been documented in the region from the alpine meadows of protected areas such as Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Askot Wildlife Sanctuary, Kanchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and Dehan-Debang Biosphere Reserve.
- For centuries, caterpillar fungus has seemingly been used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine as a tonic, as a therapeutic medicine for lung, liver and kidney problems.
- In recent time the species has been widely traded as an aphrodisiac and a powerful tonic.
- There are also reports that caterpillar fungus possesses a range of more specific therapeutic properties; including action against asthma and bronchial inflammation, cure of renal complaints, irregular menstruation and stimulation of the immune system.
Harvesting and trade
- Harvesting of caterpillar fungus starts at the beginning of May and lasts till the end of June.
- The collection period, however, depends on factors such as weather, snow cover on the pasture and elevation of collection sites.
- The mean annual buying price by local traders in villages of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve has increased steadily from approximately $4,700 (Rs 3.3 lakh) per kilogramme in 2006 to more than $13,000 per kg in 2015.
Opportunity and Challenge
- The villagers who harvest caterpillar fungus in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and Askot landscape belong to economically marginal communities — shepherds, porters and traders.
- The income derived through the collection and trade of this precious fungus has led to enhanced empowerment of rural dwellers living in extremely remote mountain pockets.
- Ultimately, increasing trade-induced over-harvesting seems almost undoubtedly responsible for the declining populations of the caterpillar fungus.
- Rampant exploitation and implementation of scientifically sustainable harvesting should be regulated in order for the survival of the species and to conserve pristine alpine meadows.
- The studies conducted in this regard note that there is a clear need for strengthening the policy measures, to manage the fungus sustainably, assimilating features of conservation, livelihood security and good governance.