As Chinese mountains get hotter, hunt for 'cure-all' fungus gets harder
Updated : 2019-06-28 11:35:42
For Ma Junxiao, an ethnic Hui Muslim farmer from remote western China, the daily climb up sheer mountain slopes to look for a tiny fungus is vital to his family's subsistence. Each spring, Ma travels more than 600 kilometres (370 miles) by road from his impoverished village in Gansu to a jumbled knot of nameless peaks in neighbouring Qinghai province. There, he joins an army of about 80 people hired by a local company to find and pick Ophiocordyceps sinensis, a fungus believed to possess aphrodisiac and medicinal powers. In recent years, cordyceps companies in Qinghai have been paying locals millions of yuan for the right to cordon off an entire mountain each season. But the cordyceps harvest has waned in Qinghai, the biggest producing region in China. In the last two years, Ma's cordyceps income has more than halved to 7,000-8,000 yuan ($1,018-$1,164) per season as the fungus grew more scarce. One reason: higher temperatures, less seasonal snow, and receding glaciers have led to warmer mountains, making it less hospitable for the fungus, which thrives in soils that are cold but not frozen, about 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). Glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau have shrunk 15% in the past half a century as gains in local temperatures outstripped the global average by three-fold, Chinese state media reported last year. At the same time, demand for the highly prized cordyceps has increased sharply in the last decade as an emerging Chinese middle class seeks it to cure everything from kidney disorders to impotence, despite a lack of scientific evidence. A global fad for plant-based superfoods has also stoked interest.