Rush to harvest 'Himalayan Viagra' degrading Uttarakhand's alpine meadows | WeForNews | Latest News, Blogs Rush to harvest ‘Himalayan Viagra’ degrading Uttarakhand’s alpine meadows – WeForNews | Latest News, Blogs
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Rush to harvest ‘Himalayan Viagra’ degrading Uttarakhand’s alpine meadows

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Noida, Sep 11 (IANS/ 101Reporters) The mad rush to harvest expensive caterpillar fungus in the higher Himalayan region of Uttarakhand is taking a toll on the fragile ecosystem of the alpine meadows.

Researchers studying the harvest and trade aspects of the Cordyceps fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) say the high market price of the species in China coupled with limited manpower of the state’s forest department have resulted in the uncontrolled collection of the species. They say it is causing soil cover destruction, felling of alpine trees for fuelwood and hunting of endangered animals for food by the harvesters.

Cordyceps is considered a potent aphrodisiac and energy booster and deemed to cure lung, liver and kidney problems in the traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicines. Every year between May and July, thousands of villagers in the state embark on an arduous journey to the higher reaches with their domesticated animals, tents and sacks of supplies and stay for two months to harvest it.

A scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, Amit Kumar, who has carried out research on the fungus species at Nanda Devi National Park near Joshimath, informed that the harvesters sometimes kill wild animals, including endangered ones such as blue sheep and musk deer, for food during their stay in the meadows.

He said that during the course of his research when he interacted and worked with the locals who went to harvest the fungus, he found out that it’s difficult for the harvesters to survive on potatoes and wheat and thus they hunt wild animals for meat.

The alpine meadows are home to numerous rare species of flora and fauna like snow leopard, Himalayan blue sheep (bharal), Aconite (Aconitum heterophyllum), Brahmakamal (Saussurea obvallata) and Costus (Saussurea costus).

Dehradun-based environmental researcher Subhajit Saha revealed that the villagers carry firearms with them to the meadows to hunt wild animals like blue sheep, rabbits and red foxes for their meat. He noted that hunting of wild animals is not allowed in India and only the species that have been declared as vermins can be hunted and that too after getting permission from the state forest department. Bharal, which is an endangered species and comes under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, continues to be hunted, he stated.

While the officials with the forest department have strong suspicion that the villagers during their stay at the meadows hunt wild animals, the lack of evidence prevents them from taking action. A forest department official from Pithoragarh, on the condition of anonymity, told 101Reporters that while hunting cases against villagers are rare, it’s common knowledge that during their stay, they not only hunt wild animals for food but also poach them as they are well-versed with the terrain.

Topsoil affected

Cordyceps is an entomopathogenic fungus (a fungus that grows on insects) which seeks shelter in the larva of ghost moths (Family Hepialidae). It germinates inside the caterpillar, kills and mummifies it.

“The fungus attacks the larva under the soil and eventually a stalk-like body of the fungus emerges out of the caterpillar body. Harvesters crawl on the surface and dig [the] soil to collect the fungus,” says Dr Subrat Sharma, a scientist with the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development.

Environmental researcher Saha revealed that the alpine meadows are mostly rocky and have a thin layer of soil that takes hundreds of years to form. He added that the harvesters dig up the soil to collect the fungus, damaging the surface layer of the area.

The demand for the fungus reportedly shot up in 1993 when three Chinese athletes broke five world records at the Beijing National Games after regularly consuming a tonic apparently made from the fungus.

The fungus, locally known as Keeda Jadi, was introduced to the locals in Uttarakhand by migrant Nepalese labourers. It is known as Yartsagunbu in Tibet and Yarsagumba in Nepal.

Harvesting of the fungus began around Askot region in 1996-1997 from where the practice gradually spread into different valleys.

Today, most of the households in and around Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and Askot area rely on the caterpillar fungus for their livelihoods. Harvest of the fungus has transformed the lives of the people, bringing in a much-needed economic boost to the villagers of these far-flung areas, which have traditionally been reliant on herding and subsistence agriculture.

There is a well-established network of local middlemen, brokers and merchants in the border townships of Dharchula and Munsiyari in Uttarakhand. The proximity to the porous border with Nepal and Tibet makes it easier for traffickers.

A local seller usually fetches around $20,000 (over Rs14 lakh) for a kilogramme of Cordyceps, making it a lucrative business for the villagers. A family of four on an average harvests around 150 grams during a season.

Decline in numbers

In the last 10 years, researchers say, harvesting has become more intense, causing a decline in the yield. Dwindling collection of the fungus has made the harvesters prolong their stay in the meadows for a better chance of finding the elusive species. The fungus is found in the alpine meadows between 3,500 and 5,000 metres above sea level.

A portion of the land where these fungi grow fall under the van panchayat (village council) land and has been distributed amicably between the residents of the villages. Saha highlighted that the harvesters cross over to protected lands of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries regularly in their quest for the fungus.

“Prior permission is required to extract wildlife resources from restricted areas. However, the caterpillar fungus harvesters often harvest in these areas because of the unavailability of forest staff to monitor their activities,” stated Saha.

Higher anthropogenic pressure in the meadows in the form of an increased number of harvesters and the number of days they spend in search of the fungus also leads to the dumping of non-biodegradable waste like plastic bottles on the surface and open defecation, contaminating water sources of the landscape.

“Thousands of villagers go for mass-collection of the species each year, along with their tents, food, other consumables and domestic animals. These huge aggregations in the remote pastures are bound to destroy the pristine nature of the ecosystems and the threatened species that inhabit them,” Pramod Kumar Yadav, a researcher who has carried out research projects on the fungus, told 101Reporters.

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Covid-19 corollaries on the dairy sector: CRISIL

Overall, demand for milk and dairy products would be lukewarm in the near term, so prices are unlikely to boil over, according to the report.

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dairy industry

New Delhi, May 26 : Supply chain disruptions in the early weeks of the nationwide lockdown, and bread-and-butter issues for hotels, restaurants and cafes, have materially reduced demand for dairy products.

This is despite supply of most dairy products continuing during the lockdown, since they are categorised as essentials.

The shuttering of hotels and dine-ins has also dried up off-take of skimmed milk powder and khoya.

According to report by CRISIL Research on the state of dairy industry and supply chains, products that can’t be made at home easily – such as cheese, flavoured milk and also khoya – haven’t found their way back to the dining table in the same quantities as before the lockdown.

Demand for ice creams, which usually peaks in summer (accounting for 40 per cent of annual sales) has just melted away. Rural areas, which are feeling the income pinch more, seem to be staying off butter and ghee, the report by global analytics firm has said.

To be sure, since the third week of April, supply chains have turned smoother, so demand for staples such as milk, curd, paneer and yogurt are expected to see a quick rebound, leading to on-year expansion in sales, CRISIL said.

The pandemic, however, may sour the business for unorganised dairies because of pervasive contamination fears.

Conversely, as consumers shift, revenues of organised dairies and packaged products should fatten.

Overall, demand for milk and dairy products would be lukewarm in the near term, so prices are unlikely to boil over, according to the report.

Large brands such as Amul and Mother Dairy had already hiked retail milk prices by 4-5 per cent last fiscal. They may not serve an encore.

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445 people died from Australia bushfires smoke: Experts

Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all had periods where they had the worst air quality in the world as a result of the smoke.

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Arogya Setu App

Canberra, May 26 : Smoke from Australia’s devastating 2019-20 bushfires killed at least 445 people, health experts revealed on Tuesday.

Fay Johnston, a public health expert from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, told the bushfire royal commission on Tuesday that her team estimated that 445 people died as a result of the smoke that blanketed much of the nation’s east coast, reports Xinhua news agency.

It takes the total death toll from the 2019-2020 bushfire season, which has been dubbed the “Black Summer”, to nearly 480 after 34 people lost their lives directly.

According to modelling produced by Johnston and her colleagues, 80 per cent of Australians were affected by the smoke at some point, including 3,340 people who were hospitalized with heart and lung problems.

“We were able to work out a yearly cost of bushfire smoke for each summer season and… our estimates for the last season were A$2 billion in health costs,” Johnston said.

“There’s fluctuation year to year, of course, but that was a major departure from anything we had seen in the previous 20 years.”

Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra all had periods where they had the worst air quality in the world as a result of the smoke.

Commissioners also heard on Tuesday that the increasing frequency of significant bushfire events in Australia meant that survivors no longer feel safe during the recovery phase.

“Disasters are no longer perceived as rare events, they are often seen as climate change, and they’re part of our new reality,” Lisa Gibbs, a child welfare expert from the University of Melbourne, said.

“We don’t know how that is going to affect recovery because the seeds of hope are a really important part of people’s ability to deal with what has happened and to get back on track.”

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Rising urbanization likely cause of heavy rainfall in South: Research

Their findings were reported in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Royal Meteorological Society’ on May 18, 2020.

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IMD heavy rains predict

Hyderabad, May 26 : A team of researchers at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) have discovered a link between heavy rainfall in several parts of south India and a growing urbanisation in the region.

A team led by Prof. Karumuri Ashok from the Centre for Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Hyderabad, examined whether a common factor, the changing ‘land use land cover’ (LULC) in these states, has any implications for the heavy rainfall events.

Over the past few years, many heavy rainfall events have been reported in cities of south India. Prominent among them are the extreme rainfall that created havoc in Chennai and nearby areas of Tamil Nadu in December 2015, the heavy rainfall over Hyderabad and adjoining regions in Telangana in September 2016, and the extreme rainfall event in Kerala in August 2018.

Notably, these three states differ in their geographical locations, and also the season in which they receive rainfall. Kerala, located on the southwest Indian coast off the Arabian Sea receives heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon from June-September.

Tamil Nadu, off the Bay of Bengal, receives rainfall mainly during the northeast monsoon (October-December). The land-locked state Telangana receives the bulk of its annual rainfall during the summer monsoon season.

A UoH statement stated that their study showed the precipitation during heavy rainfall events in these states has significantly increased from 2000 to 2017. Using the LULC data from ISRO, and by conducting 2 km resolution simulation experiments of twelve heavy rainfall events over the states, the researchers found distinct LULC changes in these three states, which led to higher surface temperatures and a deeper and moist boundary layer. These in turn caused a relatively higher convective available potential energy and, consequently, heavier rainfall.

The study also suggests that increasing urbanization in Telangana and Tamil Nadu is likely to enhance the rainfall during the heavy rainfall events by 20%-25%. Prof. Ashok feels that improving the density of observational rainfall and other weather parameters may help in forecasting extreme rainfalls at city level.

Their findings were reported in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Royal Meteorological Society’ on May 18, 2020.

Prof. K. Ashok and his Ph.D. student Mr. A. Boyaj who is the first author, are both from the Centre for Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Hyderabad. The work was done in collaboration with Prof. Ibrahim Hoteit and Dr Hari Prasad Dasari of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

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