GI tag for world’s ‘costliest’ mushroom Guchhi soon
Forest-dwellers in Jammu Shivaliks being given training, instructions about its collection, processing techniques, market knowledge & access
Pinning hopes on getting geographical indication (GI) tag for Doda region’s ‘Guchhi’, a wild mushroom grown naturally in the foothills of the Himalayas, the government of Jammu and Kashmir plans to promote the species of fungus.
Considered a super-food, Guchhi belongs to the family morchellaceae of the ascomycota. Rich in vitamins B, C, D, and K, it is probably the costliest among fungi in the world and fetches anything between ₹ 30,000 and ₹ 50,000 per kg.
A top official in the department of forest, ecology and environment said, “December last year, we notified the MFP (minor forest produes) and the NTFP (non-timber forest products) rules, wherein among other products, Guchhi was also liberalised.”
“Under the rules, we have said that Guchhi is an NTFP and authorised its collection through local panchayats and rural development department via self-help groups, which in turn will help them earn their livelihood and improve their self-employment avenues,” he added.
The official further said pursuant upon rules, the control (over Guchhi) now lies with the gram panchayats. Earlier, the forest department used to invite tenders for its collection.
“Bringing it under the ambit of gram panchayats is a major policy decision of the J&K government. Now, the collection is being done through local population, self-help groups, women folk and tribals living in and around the jungles, who were always dependent on forest produce. We have now allowed them to actually collect and sell it,” said the top forest official.
With the government interventions, forest-dwellers in Jammu Shivaliks are being given formal training and instructions about mushroom collection and processing techniques, market knowledge, and market access, so that their efforts pay them their rightly-earned share.
J&K agriculture department director KK Sharma said, “Since Guchhi is not a cultivated plant but a wild mushroom that grows on its own at the tree line of Himalayas, there is no standard scientific technique as of date to cultivate it.”
“We have applied for GI tag and our application is with the registry at Chennai. We are hopeful of getting the GI tag in the next two to three months. After GI tagging, the quality of the yield would obviously improve because of the intervention of scientific techniques for collecting and drying it,” said Sharma.
“Once the wild mushroom gets GI tag, it will also benefit those associated with its collection. They will get better price for their collection and other benefits that come with GI tagging. For now, standard cultivation technique is not available,” said Sharma.
Besides the jungles of Himalayas, it is sometimes found near the banks of the Chenab in Akhnoor.
“Found right from the snowline, deodar and pine jungles, sometimes Guchhi is even found at Chenab bed in Akhnoor because it needs micro-climate. Spores are present in air and when weather conditions, including temperature, match the required parameters, it starts growing on the Chenab bed,” he said.
If village folklores are to be believed, Guchhi sprouts when three earthly elements — rain, lightning and thunder — take place simultaneously in the jungles of Himalayas at a height of 2,000 meters above sea level. However, there are no scientific evidences to substantiate the claims yet.
“Gucchi or Morels is a perfect stage of fungus. They have spongy, honeycombed heads, usually have two shades — one pale white and another brownish. They grow best during rains,” said Sharma.
Doda deputy magistrate Vishesh Pal Mahajan said, “The government of Jammu and Kashmir has pitched for GI tagging for Doda Guchhi. Once we get it, the wild mushroom, those collecting it painstakingly and the area will get the much needed impetus.”
Mahajan said he has also issued instructions to the cooperatives department to come up with a cooperative for Guchhi. “Since the yield is in small quantities, if it (collection) takes form of a cooperative then it will not only add to the quantity of the yield but also enable the villagers to have a better negotiation power. It has an immense demand in the international market and in other parts of the country. For now, it has no fixed price and is sold anything between ₹ 30,000 and ₹ 50,000 per kg. In Dubai, it fetches a huge price,” said Mahajan.
“Till now, the middleman was taking away the profit but the idea is to benefit those collecting and drying it on the ground. They should be benefitted and deal directly with the market,” he added.
Guchhi is largely found in Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar, Kupwara and Ramban districts.
“But Doda’s Guchhi is considered best in quality and that’s why the government is trying for its GI tagging. Having a spongy texture, savoury flavor and a honeycomb-like structure, Guchhis or Morel mushrooms a rare wild mushroom and those found in Doda are the best. A food delicacy, it has medicinal and nutritional value,” he said. The Doda DC said he was planning to get the cooperative on the ground in two months across Doda.
J&K has 20,230 sq km forest cover, which is about 20 per cent of its total geographical area, which gives an ideal atmosphere for the growth of the wild mushroom.