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Gucchi mushrooms: Latest victim of climate change in Himalayan region

Gucchi, a rare type of mushroom found only in the Himalayan region including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,

By Tufail Ganie
New Update
Gucchi mushrooms: Latest victim of climate change in Himalayan region

Gucchi, a rare type of mushroom found only in the Himalayan region including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, is believed to be facing a decline due to climate change and the methods used for cultivation.

Rising temperatures are making it difficult for Gucchi to grow, as it requires moist soil, which is becoming scarce. Gucchi production often begins after February and is triggered by thunderstorms and snowfall during the winter. Water scarcity caused by climate change has made it impossible for Gucchi production to survive.

Gucchi is one of the most expensive edible mushrooms in the Morchellaceae family, scientifically known as Morchella esculenta. These mushrooms grow naturally in moist soil and are not yet artificially cultivated in India. It is believed that its growth begins after snowfall, after thunderstorms.

Gucchi mushrooms are found primarily in wooded areas, but can also grow on flats with lots of sand and near bodies of water. They have a relatively short growing season, usually budding between late February and early April.

Rare and precious, Gucchi mushrooms, also known as morels, are highly sought-after delicacies for their medicinal properties and use in gourmet cooking. Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

The cost of Gucchi mushrooms is extremely high due to their medicinal properties and their use in food. Reports suggest that it possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant effects on the human body.

Gucchi mushroom production has declined in recent years, with a significant decline being observed in Jammu and Kashmir, where production dropped from 2,000 quintals (200 tons) in 1991 to 88 quintals (8.8 tons) in 2018 and zero in 2019.

A local Kangan resident, Mushtaq Khatana told Ground Report that the number of morels collected in Kashmir this year has been significantly less. Khatana stressed that "the Guchhis mark the arrival of spring for us," and this time, due to the spring dry season, the harvest has been affected.

Gucchi Mushrooms and Climate Change

Due to their high demand and limited availability, Gucchi mushrooms can fetch a high price in the market, often ranging from Indian Rupees 30,000-40,000 per kilogram. As a result, they are often sold in smaller packages, with just a few grams of the prized mushroom inside.

Morels are not typically cultivated but are found growing in the wild, particularly in wooded areas located at high altitudes. In Kashmir, they are commonly found at elevations above 2000 meters, in areas like Kangan, Anantnag, Kupwara and Uri, Bandipora.

A recent study by scientists at the University of Stirling suggests that growing edible mushrooms alongside trees can offer a solution to mitigate the impact of climate change while providing a valuable food source for millions of people. The study, published in the prestigious journal PNAS, highlights that this approach not only reduces the need for deforestation for agriculture but also incentivizes tree planting.

Although morels are not cultivated, their high demand has led to the development of a morel-collecting industry in Kashmir. Local pickers hand-pick the mushrooms and sell them to markets and buyers both within and outside the region. The morel industry provides an important source of income for many families in Kashmir and contributes to the local economy.

Over-harvesting of rare mushrooms has led to a decline in production, threatening the species with extinction. Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

Experts believe that the decline in Gucchi production is also due to over-harvesting of the mushrooms, which reduces spores for future growth. Gucchi is found mainly in the higher altitude Anantnag, Kupwara and Kangan forest ranges in Kashmir, as well as in the Doda and Kashtiwar forest ranges in the Jammu area. It is often referred to as the "royal food" and is served at Kashmiri weddings.

With heat waves becoming more common in the Himalayan region and rainfall dwindling, Gucchi's future is uncertain. However, there is hope for the fungus as artificial cultivation in laboratories is being explored. Growers remain skeptical about the future of Gucchi mushrooms due to the impact of climate change on wild mushrooms.

The Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department's 2018-19 Digest of Forest Statistics reveals a significant decline in morel production from 2,000 quintals (200 tonnes) in 1991 to 88 quintals (8.8 tonnes) in 2018 and ultimately none in 2019.

Morels: A Valuable Kashmiri Mushroom

Mir Ajiaz Hassan, a junior scientist at the Integrated Mushroom Development Centre, Lal Mandi Agriculture Department (IMDC) told Ground Report that the morel mushroom, also known as "Kanegeich" in Kashmir, is a valuable meat substitute due to its high content nutritional and medicinal. properties. It is considered the most expensive mushroom in the world and grows abundantly in the northwestern Himalayan range of Kashmir.

He added, "Most of the rural people of Kashmir are involved in collecting morels, along with their other occupations such as farming and herding, as it is a profitable enterprise. Morels can be sold for Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 per kilogram." in the market. Gathering of the wild mushrooms is usually done early in the morning, and the women are usually accompanied by children, who have keen eyesight and can easily locate the morels in the ground."

Gucchi mushrooms: Latest victim of climate change in Himalayan region
Over-harvesting threatens the future of Gucchi mushrooms in the Himalayas. This rare delicacy, known for its medicinal properties and use in food, requires proper management to ensure its survival. Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

"Mushrooms of the Morchella family are usually preserved after being sun-dried, smoke-dried or salted and then packed in jute bags or jars for sale in the market. They are often eaten fresh, while dried ones are eaten out of season, particularly during the winter months when vegetables are in short supply and movement is restricted due to snowfall and inclement weather," Ajiaz Hassan said.

Mushroom diversity in Jammu-Kashmir

Dr Shabir U Rehman, Agricultural Extension Assistant at IMDC in Lal Mandi told Ground Report that Jammu and Kashmir are known for their various varieties of mushrooms, including the prized Gucchi. This particular mushroom is in the Morchellaceae family and can be easily recognized by its large yellowish cap with pits and ridges, and a white stem. Gucchi thrives in forests and plains with bodies of sand and water and is normally found from late February to early April.

He added that "there is a belief that the fungus sprouts after lightning strikes the ground. Morels, which are also known as Gucchi in the Indian market, are highly valued and socially and economically significant in the northwestern Himalayas due to their spongy texture and its unique characteristics".

"Although morels cannot be cultivated commercially, they grow wild in certain regions like Kangara Valley, J&K, Manali and other parts of Himachal Pradesh after the snowfall period. Collectors, often undertaking challenging journeys, look for these mushrooms in coniferous forests" he added.

Dr Shabir U Rehman added that the harvesting process can take months and the mushrooms must be sun-dried before being sold. However, climate change is having an impact on the availability of morels, and experts suggest leaving at least one mushroom intact when finding a group to help maintain the population." he added.

The story of Gucchi and Morels mushrooms in Jammu and Kashmir highlights the delicate balance between human demand and environmental sustainability. Valued for their unique flavour and texture, these prized mushrooms are not yet artificially cultivated in India and are found in the wild for a short growing season.

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