Finance and Business

Why Caterpillar Fungus Is So Expensive | So Expensive

What would you do if a mysterious fungus invaded your body and started eating you from the inside out? Sounds like something out of a horror film but that’s actually exactly
what happens to a certain type of baby moth. This fungus eats its way
through the helpless moth and then sprouts out of their
heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid fungus
called Caterpillar fungus isn’t just totally fascinating,
it’s also expensive, sometimes selling for
more than three times its weight in gold. Caterpillar fungus grows in
the remote Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayan mountains. But that’s not the only
place you can find it. You can also find it in
New York City’s Chinatown. Here nestled among countless
drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers, there it is: A small pile of 50 or so pieces
of dried Caterpillar fungus. Here one gram of it costs about $30. But that’s a steal. Vendors on Ebay, for
example, will try to get away with listing a gram for $125. The price is so high simply
because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare. It shows up only for a few weeks each year in the remote regions of Nepal,
Tibet, India, and Bhutan. And even there, the
fungus can still be tricky for collectors to find hidden
amongst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a
staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine. Kelly Hopping: Traditionally
it was used as a general tonic for immune support. Narrator: So for instance, a
family might add some of it to chicken soup to make you feel better. It’s even rumored that it can be used as some sort of Himalayan Viagra. Though there’s little evidence
to back that claim up. People also buy the fungus as
a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better-looking
pieces fetch a higher price. Kelly Hopping: It’s all
dependent on exactly the color of the Caterpillar fungus. Even, say, the shape of
its body when it died. All these things that don’t
necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value
make all the difference for the economic value. Narrator: In 2017 for
example, high-quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kilo or about $63,000 per pound. Now, Caterpillar fungus has
always been pricey, but experts say its value really skyrocketed
in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy. The resulting increase in
disposable income ultimately helped drive a massive boom in harvest. In the Tibetan Autonomous
Region for example, collectors reportedly hauled
out more than three times as much Caterpillar
fungus in the early 2000s than they did in the ’80s. And now, many families depend
on the cash it brings in. In fact, experts say up
to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling Caterpillar fungus. Just one district in
Nepal reported collecting 4.7 million dollars worth of
Caterpillar fungus in 2016. That is 12% more than the
district’s annual budget. But those profits are at risk. Surveys indicate that the annual harvests have recently declined. Kelly Hopping: The collectors
themselves mostly attributed this to over harvesting. Acknowledging that their
own collection pressure was driving these declines. Narrator: And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to
regulate the harvest. Daniel Winkler: And all these
different political units have a different policy, and
in the end, it is really down to county level and how it’s implemented. Narrator: And climate change
is also causing problems. The fungus is more abundant in areas with cold, long winters. Which are increasingly hard to come by. Daniel Winkler: For the rural
economy, if there’s a lot of loss, it would be devastating.
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