The yarsagumba, or caterpillar fungus, has become an important source of income for some villagers living in the high Himalayan landscapes. This product is an unusual mixture of plant and animal. A fungus will infect a caterpillar, and slowly consume and transform the living creature into partially plant tissue. Considered to have many beneficial qualities, and used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine – especially as an aphrodisiac, it can sell for anywhere from between $500 to $1,300 for 30 grams.

Given the high price of the yarsagumba in locations where the annual per capita income is often just around $1,000, it can be a source of conflict. A team from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, and local government representatives trekked across where the Mahakali river flows in Nepal, where much of this collection takes place. This area is part of the Sacred Kailash Landscape, and is an important site of transboundary interaction – in particular between Indian and Nepalese villagers.

This trip scouted out where there was cooperation and where there was conflict, and what might account for the different experiences.


This article first appeared on The Third Pole.