Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for 2000 years, Yarsagumba or the caterpillar fungus is a highly prized tonic, touted for its ability to cure many diseases is also known as Himalayan Viagra. Before the rainy season begins, fungus settles on the heads of caterpillars’ that lives underground. The fungus gets so much into the body of the caterpillars’ that it grows out through its head and drains all the energy from the insect and ultimately it dies.
Yarsagumba is a rare and unique herb that grows in the land above 3,500 meters in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet. Till 2001 collection of Yarsagumba was illegal but with the ban lifted, this has become a good income to the Himalayan people. Every year during May and June, thousands of villagers from remote areas risking their own lives head for high mountains to collect yarsagumba. It is estimated that one villager can earn up to $35 a day by collecting yarsagumba which is beyond the monthly salary of many Nepalese households.
Some scholars argue that during 1980s people use to exchange yarsagumba with cigarettes, noodles and other goods rarely found in remote villages. Now it costs around US$ 1800 per kg for the middle man in harvesting place, 31600 $ in Kathmandu and 10,000$ in China. Due to the increase in price, year after year during harvesting season, the Himalayas are rocked by resource conflict, robberies, and even murders.
The positive impact of this natural resource is the villagers are improving their livelihood and government is collecting revenue but with the increase in the value of this natural resource, the even violent conflict has occurred as stated below.
- In Manang District, a large group of local men and boys, upon hearing of intruders picking yarsagumba in their place, murdered 7. In November 2009, six men were sentenced to life imprisonment and 13 others were convicted as accomplices in the mass murders.
- In 2014, 2 people died in Dolpa in the clash with the police.
- From cold alone, at least13 people died in the 2014 picking season.
- In 2014 a gang stole cash and yarsagumba worth $40 million rupees (the equivalent of more than $400,000) from a camp within the Phoksundo VDC in Dolpa District.
There is a need for adequate control and proper regulation by the government before the situation worsen as overharvesting is causing a decrease in Yarsagumba collection. According to a research by Uttam Babu Shrestha, the average per capita harvest in Dolpa fell by about half between 2006 and 2010.