Due to alarming reports of declining yarsagumba (caterpillar-fungus) populations, Nepal is revising its guidelines to regulate its harvest and trade. Recognized as one of the world's priciest herbs, yarsagumba, scientifically known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is a fungus that parasitizes caterpillars in the Himalayas. The Ministry of Forest and Environment has drafted new guidelines and is seeking feedback from stakeholders.
Yarsagumba is highly valued, especially in China, for its supposed aphrodisiac and medicinal benefits. The new guidelines aim to support and monitor those involved in its harvest and trade. The proposed regulations limit the harvesting period to 30 days annually between mid-April and mid-June. Harvesters must be over 16, and each individual will receive a permit once a year. Collection camps will be established to provide essential services, and pickers will be restricted to specific areas designated by national park authorities.
The guidelines also address environmental concerns, such as prohibiting the use of thin plastics, lighting fires, and playing music or movies in the area. A quota system for yarsagumba collection will be introduced.
The urgency for these guidelines is underscored by past incidents, including disputes leading to violence and deaths due to harsh environmental conditions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed yarsagumba as vulnerable due to excessive harvesting, noting a 30% decline in its populations over the past 15 years.
The fungus is not only found in Nepal but also in northern India, Bhutan, and China's Tibetan plateau. The IUCN emphasizes the need for sustainable harvesting programs for both the fungus and the communities relying on it for income.
Since Nepal legalized yarsagumba trade in 2001, its trade volume peaked at 2,442.4 kg in 2009 but dropped to 1,170.8 kg in 2011. Despite the decline, the fungus remains a significant income source for many Nepali families, with some collectors earning up to Rs103,000 annually. The government hopes the new guidelines will ensure the sustainability of this valuable resource.