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Tibet's caterpillar fungus gold rush

08-07-2013 13:57 BJT Special Report: Inside Tibet |

By CCTV reporter Han Peng

The mysterious Tibetan Plateau houses countless treasures. But nothing is more lucrative than a special kind of fungus, called caterpillar fungus. Its staggering price surge over the past decades has spurred many Tibetans to join the gold rush. But experts say that this poses a huge risk to the plateau’s vulnerable environment.

This oddly shaped small fungus is worth three times the price of gold. And all of a sudden, many Tibetans, who’ve been ordinary herdsmen for generations, find themselves sitting on a gold mine. The price is so high and so sensitive, that traders bargain secretly under the hat. One bag of the fungus in exchange for one bag of RMB cash, that’s over 100,000 Yuan per kilo. For ten years, Ciren Duoji has been harvesting the fungus and selling it to the local trading center. Today, he’s become a millionaire, buying villas in Lhasa, sending his children abroad, and paying others to do the village chores.

"The fungus has existed on the Plateau for thousands of years, and no one really cared. But twenty years ago, people in eastern China suddenly began to believe that it could be used as a medicine to cure cancer and boost sexual performance. The prices have only soared since then by a factor of thousands," Ciren Duoji said.

At his home, the safe case is as high as the refrigerator, fully loaded with cash and fungus. Millions of yuan worth, it’s enough for him to buy two more villas in Lhasa.

The caterpillar fungus has become a cash cow for Tibetans. This small trading center alone could produce a staggering revenue of over 3 and a half billion yuan each year. However, behind the booming market is a real concern of an environmental disaster on the Tibetan Plateau.

Almost all herdsmen near the harvesting site have joined this fungal gold rush. To ensure the precious fungus is not broken, they use shovels to dig the small fungus out of the earth. The earth has been left open, grass uprooted, and at such a high altitude, it takes years for the plants to grow back.

With the intensive harvesting, reports show that some areas have been picked almost empty. This has also sparked violent conflicts over territory occasionally fatal.

"The ecological system of the Tibetan Plateau is very vulnerable. Any damage to the system can cause irreversible consequences. So we send a special team to ensure harvesters re-cover the area they disturb with grass to make sure the fungus there spores in the following year. And we ask harvesters to stop picking until the fungi reach maturity," said Liu Jiaxin, deputy director of Naqu Bureau of Commerce.

It’s easy and quick money, versus a potential environmental calamity. Is it a blessing or a curse? For millions of Tibetans, the market craze for the fungi is reshaping their life and landscape.


Editor:James |Source:

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