Annual Report 2015: Facilitating regional cooperation

Yarshagumba Workshop Enables Regional Progress towards Sustainable Harvest

When parasitic mushroom spores infect the larvae of ghost moths living in Himalayan soil, a thin fingerlike fungus bursts from the head of the dead caterpillar and sets off an annual gold rush in mountain communities. The strange fungus-caterpillar fusion, yarshagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), has become a major source of income for people who fan out across the northern alpine grasslands of Bhutan, India, Nepal and China’s Tibetan Plateau to gather the pricey medicinal herb.

But the hunt for this fungal gold has led to overharvesting and environmental degradation. A regional transboundary workshop in Bhutan this year provided an opportunity for representatives of member countries – particularly those linked with the Kailash Sacred Landscape, which includes yarshagumba-rich areas in China, India, and Nepal – to analyse policy options, discuss management approaches, and exchange knowledge and experience with each other and counterparts in Bhutan, which has made significant strides in yarshagumba management.

Recommendations proposed during the workshop, and now on track for implementation in relevant parts of India and Nepal, included limits on numbers of gatherers and requiring campsites to be at lower rather than higher elevations to protect fragile habitats.