The Hunt for Yarsagumba

The hunt for Yarsagumba, the “Himalayan Viagra”, is on.

It’s been all over the news lately and some pretty interesting articles have been written about it. “Citizenship teams wait as Dolpa folks pick Yarsagumba” in the Republica, a renowed english daily, really got me thinking. It’s interesting to know that people are actually not interested in applying for/ renewing their Citizenships. For most people in that region, Yarsagumba is a major source of income and the harvesting season only lasts two to three months a year. This income guarantees a livelihood while the Nepal Government issued Citizenship does no good. Can’t blame them, can you?

Earning a livelihood is all well and good but it comes at an expense. There have been reports that schools have been closed due to students out on the hunt. I talked to a few people who go hunting for yarsagumba while on a trek in the Makalu region last April. They informed me that they can get Rs. 100 (a little over $1.00) for one piece of Yarsagumba. That’s easy money for them so no one wants to miss the opportunity. Schools and Health Centers, in the meantime, can wait till the season is over.

BBC’s Joanna Jolly provides a good insight in her article ” Yarsagumba: Curse of Himalayan Annapurna Region”. The high prospects of easy income has led to “jealousy, crime and murder”. Yes, Murder! “In June 2009, seven men from the low-lying Gorkha region of Nepal who came to the mountains to pick Yarsagumba were murdered by a local mob protecting their turf”. We’re talking about peace loving mountain people here. I guess all that changes when serious money is involved. Also, while everyone is digging away in the high mountains, there’s no one in the villages to plough the fields during the monsoons. Consequently, people in that region have no other choice but to import almost all of their basic commodities from China.

The flourishing Yarsagumba industry has an environmental impact as well. Harvesters are unaware of the fact that, for sake of future harvests, the fungi has to mature and disperse spores into the soil. Yarsagumba that have not reached maturity are being collected which causes decline in the percentage of harvest every year. It is also being overharvested which raises another concern. “Hundreds of harvesters working the same plot of land could damage the soil, threatening the ecosystem of other mountain species.” writes Bailey Johnson of CBSNEWS in his article “Where is all the “Himalayan Viagra” going?”.

I guess we’re living in a world that puts a huge price tag on anything that increases libido without much concern about Social and Environmental impacts. In the past, people in the mountains here believed in the old Buddhist saying that harvesting Yarsagumba was a sin and brought bad luck. Today, it’s a business risk they’re willing to take. BUT, can we really blame them?

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