The trade of Himalayan caterpillar fungus, or Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is believed to have transformed the rural economy of certain Himalayan villages. Most scholarly work on the caterpillar fungus focuses on its ecology, physiology, and pharmacological attributes, followed by conservation and sustainability issues. Few studies have tried to understand it from a socioeconomic and political perspective. Of the few studies examining its economic contribution to households, most are concentrated in Nepal and Tibet, and a handful focus on India. In the present study, we estimated the mean annual cash income per household in Gori valley, Kumaon Himalaya, and the relative economic contribution of caterpillar fungus. We compared the incomes of caterpillar fungus collectors with those of noncollectors, identified harvest trends from 2009 to 2017, and took stock of people's perceptions regarding this short seasonal occupation. Results show that earnings from caterpillar fungus contribute 60–78% to the annual household income of collectors, with noncollectors earning 15–55% less than collectors. The study suggests that an increase in the number of harvesters may explain an observed decline in individual harvests. Though caterpillar fungus provides opportunities for economic emancipation to half the valley's population, inconsistent harvest, unreliable prices, and illegality of the trade are decreasing its viability for many. Furthermore, discordant and complex governance meted out through various state directives is increasingly jeopardizing this local natural resource-based livelihood enhancement strategy—a strategy that has incidentally outperformed concerted state efforts for poverty alleviation in the region.
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