Two new papers on Ophiocordyceps sinensis collection in the Himalayas were just recently published, one by C.P. Kuniyal and R.C. Sundriyal on the role of caterpillar fungus in the context of rural livelihood in selected villages in Uttarakhand, the other by U.B. Shrestha & K.S. Bawa on Yartsa gunbu trade harvest and conservation in Nepal's Dolpa region. Both studies offer detailed data on local level shedding light on the situation of the caterpillar fungus industry. Not surprisingly both studies raise the issue of sustainability, an issue looming large after several poor years of harvest. The Dolpa study reports based on over 200 interviews with collectors and traders that 2/3 of the stakeholders are concerned about the sustainability. It offers lots of insight and discusses a whole range of possibilities that could have caused the decline in recorded harvest in the last decade, such as increased collection pressure especially caused by more collectors and increasing value, potential reduction of ghost moth population, climate change etc. Unfortunately there are no answers to what forces are the major factors in harvest reduction, but this a very complex questions and so far there are no studies that would be able to answer this crucial question. Shresta and Bawa do not offer suggestions how to approach this challenge, whereas the authors of the Uttarakhand study Kuniyal and Sundriyal suggest rotational harvest to diminish negative impact by rotating collection. Though this is no new idea, I have my doubts about feasibility for two reason: firstly, enforcement is very difficult. Keeping collectors off designated areas for 3 out of 4 years seems impossible to me. Secondly, since Yartsa gunbu fruiting is an annual event, host and fungus are dying each year, I am wondering if after three years of fallow, one year of very intense collection might just wipe out the benefits of the fallow. There is still no conclusive empirical research on successful sustainable caterpillar fungus research. In my opinion reducing the continuous collection intensity - be it limiting the collection time to 4 weeks and/or limiting the amount of collectors allowed to enter Yartsa gunbu habitat might be a better match for an organism that infects its hosts each year anew and is distributed in extremely remote areas. However, as Shresta and Bawa point out the build up of functioning local institutions is crucial for creating the capacity of meaningful sustainable management, a process that is in Dolpa underway but far from completed.
Titles and Abstracts
U.B. Shrestha, K.S. Bawa 2013. Trade, harvest, and conservation of caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) in the Himalayas. Biological Conservation 159 (2013) 514–520.
Abstract: Unsustainable trade in wildlife is regarded as a major driver of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
Kuniyal, C.P., Sundriyal, R.C. 2013. Conservation salvage of Cordyceps sinensis collection in the Himalayan mountains is neglected. Ecosystem Services
Abstract :Traditional agriculture and animal rearing are central in the rural livelihood of Himalayan Mountains.