Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yarchagumba - Himalaya Viagra facing extinction

Yarchagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), a caterpillar fungus popular for its alleged aphrodisiac properties, is under severe threat in its natural habitat due to excessive and premature harvesting to meet growing demand and prices, warns a study.

The species is found in the high mountains of China, Nepal, India and Bhutan.
There has been a significant decline in annual harvest of Yarchagumba due to unsustainable harvesting practices. Reports suggest 2015 will be the poorest harvest ever, despite high and ever rising prices.

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MYAGDI, June 27, 2014. The price of aphrodisiac herb yarchagumba has increased by up to Rs 700,000 per kilogram this year due to rise in international demand. It is now being traded at Rs 1.75 million per kilogram while its price was Rs 1.25 million last year. “The price has risen due to lower collection than the demand of international companies,” yarchagumba trader Dal Man Pun said.
While Yarchagumba harvesting is significantly contributing in improving the lives of rural people with flow of cash during summer season, excessive harvesting to meet the increasing demand in the international market is threatening the livelihood of the dependent families, owing to habitat degradation at a rapid rate.

“The harvesting pressure is so intense that there is no single inch of habitat left untouched by the harvesters by the end of the harvesting season,”
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"Every summer, Himalayan villages empty as locals rush to the mountains of northern Nepal to harvest yarchagumba, a high-altitude wild fungus that is prized for its aphrodisiac qualities.

In recent years, however, the yield has been severely depleted by over-picking and the probable effects of climate change prompting fears about the future of the "Himalayan Viagra" harvest.

This season's crop has been particularly poor, say villagers who rely on the rare, parasitic fungus to earn money to feed their families.

Ophiocordyceps sinensis
There are over 680 documented species of the sac fungus genus Ophiocordyceps, and one of the best known of these is Ophiocordyceps sinensis, colloquially known as caterpillar fungus. The fungus is known in Tibetan as yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu.

Caterpillar fungi are the result of a parasitic relationship between the fungus and the larva of the ghost moth genus Thitarodes, several species of which live on the Tibetan Plateau. The fungus germinates in living organisms (in some cases larvae), kills and mummifies the insect, and then the fungus grows from the body of the insect."


Year Price/kg (Yuan)
1980s 1,800
1997 8,400
2004 36,000
2005 40,00-60,000
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Neighbouring China has a huge appetite for the fungus, pushing prices above $16,500 per pound (450 grams)
There has been a dramatic rises in Yarchagumba prices in both the national and international markets. In 2001, Dolpa harvesters sold the fungus for Rs 20-25 per piece but they received Rs 200-600 per piece in 2011, an increase of 900 to 2,300 per cent, according to the report. The annual production of Yarchagumba in the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau is thought to be around 85-185 tonnes with a current total estimated global market value of $5-11 billion.