‘Himalayan viagra’: The fungus that is fighting poverty in Nepal | world | Hindustan Times
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‘Himalayan viagra’: The fungus that is fighting poverty in Nepal

A unique caterpillar fungus, locally known as Yarsagumba but more popular as “Himalayan Viagra”, is changing the lives of thousands in several of Nepal’s poorest hill districts, according to a new study.

world Updated: Jan 09, 2016 07:52 IST
Utpal Parashar
The cultivation and commercial sale of the Yarsagumba, or “Himalyan viagra”, fungus has  had a significant impact on the Nepalese economy, helping to fight poverty in its underdeveloped hill districts.
The cultivation and commercial sale of the Yarsagumba, or “Himalyan viagra”, fungus has had a significant impact on the Nepalese economy, helping to fight poverty in its underdeveloped hill districts.(HT Photo)

A unique caterpillar fungus, locally known as Yarsagumba but more popular as “Himalayan Viagra”, is changing the lives of thousands in several of Nepal’s poorest hill districts, according to a new study.

Yarsagumba looks like dried weed and is found at altitudes between 3,500 metres above sea level to 5,500 metres in the Himalayan region. There is a huge demand for it in China due to its reported medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.

China accounts for nearly 95% of the total production of between 83 tonnes and 183 tonnes annually, while Nepal produces nearly 3 tonnes, followed by India (1.7 to 2.8 tonnes) and Bhutan (0.5 to 1.5 tonnes).

The study, “Impact of Yarsagumba on Nepalese Economy”, conducted by Nepal’s central bank found that the Himalayan nation is the second highest producer of Yarsagumba.

“Yarsagumba business can lead to poverty alleviation and inclusive development in the hill districts,” the study said.

Yarsagumba or Ophiocordyseps sinensis is a caterpillar-fungus that forms when parasitic mushroom spores infect and mummify a ghost moth larva found in the soil.

In Nepal, residents of 12 hill districts in the upper Himalayas uproot themselves from their homes and spend nearly two months, between May and July, in tents at higher altitudes to collect the fungus.

Each fungus, which weighs less than half a gram, can be sold for Nepali Rs 800 ($8) locally and an individual can earn Rs 120,000 in two months.

The study said a family of five can earn nearly Rs 600,000 on an average from collecting Yarsagumba, significantly higher than the average annual income of each Nepalese family of Rs 76,000. In 2014-15, more than 150,000 people were involved in collecting Yarsagumba in just five districts. Dolpa district alone had over 57,000 collectors.

In Tanki-Manang village of Manang district, people built a 160-kilowatt mini hydropower plant by spending Rs 30 million generated from Yarsagumba collection, the study found.