Economic Botany

, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 291–305

Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the Fungal Commodification of Tibet’s Rural Economy

Special Mushroom Issue

DOI: 10.1007/s12231-008-9038-3

Cite this article as:
Winkler, D. Econ Bot (2008) 62: 291. doi:10.1007/s12231-008-9038-3


Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the Fungal Commodification of Tibet’s Rural Economy. Cordyceps sinensis is a mushroom that parasitizes larvae of Thitarodes (Hepialus) moths, which inhabit the alpine grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau. Tibetans have used the mushroom, which they call yartsa gunbu (“summer-grass, winter-worm”) for many centuries, if not millennia. A 350% increase in the price paid to pickers between 1997 and 2004 has turned this tiny mushroom into the single most important source of cash for rural households in contemporary Tibet. On average, 40% of the rural cash income in the Tibet Autonomous Region is derived from its collection, which government statistics figured at 50,000 kg in 2004, contributing at least CNY (Chinese yuan) 1.8 billion (USD 225 million) to the Tibet Autonomous Region’s GDP. A dramatic fungal commodification of the rural Tibetan economy is occurring, as the income from sale of Cordyceps often accounts for 70%–90% of a family’s annual cash income in areas where it grows. The ever-increasing harvesting pressure raises the question of sustainability. The fact that Cordyceps has been collected for centuries and is still common argues for its resilience, but the lack of harvest studies for C. sinensis precludes a definite answer as to whether the harvest can be sustained at its current level.

Key Words

Cordyceps grassland products medicinal mushrooms mushroom harvest mushroom income rural Tibet Tibet AR Tibet GDP Tibet income 

Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.EcoMontane ConsultingKirklandUSA

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