We are betrayed by Caterpillar Fungus

We are betrayed by Caterpillar Fungus

This excerpt is taken from another popular blog Tso Ngonpo (Kokonor). Caterpillar fungus, which grows on the plateau, is sold to the mainland where it is highly prized for its medicinal uses. It has now become a primary source of income for many families in Tibet, especially in Kham and Amdo areas where the fungus grows well. Because it brings in so much money, there have been fights among villagers regarding the ownership of disputed grassland areas where the fungus is found.


We are betrayed by Caterpillar Fungus

Sonam Dorjee Lintsang

Since the 1980s, throughout the Tibetan plateau, one way of making quick money is harvesting caterpillar fungus. Once Tibetans learned to collect caterpillar fungus, they began to lose many traditional and cultural elements but it is still rarely noticed.

Many parents thought that keeping their children at home and sending them to pick caterpillar fungus was better than sending them to school, and this had a negative effect on education. In the thirty years since 1980s, many families have become dependent on caterpillar fungus to run their household economy, and consequently, their lives have become directionless as follows: Carpenters have given up carpentry and choose to make a living by digging up caterpillar fungus; blacksmiths have given up blacksmith work; artists have given up artistic work; farmers have given up farming; herders have given up herding and choose to make a living by digging up caterpillar fungus.

It is not only people in humble occupations such as tailoring who are tempted by caterpillar fungus, but also students who stop schooling to harvest caterpillar fungus. Taking their students’ actions as an opportunity, some teachers also leave work to harvest caterpillar fungus and do some business.

Moreover, some government civil servants want to make the equivalent of their annual salary in one month, so they also harvest caterpillar fungus to sell them. And it’s not just civil servants. Doctors also climb mountains to dig up caterpillar fungus. In some monasteries, even the monks pick caterpillar fungus and engage in some business.

Since the arrival of caterpillar fungus, elders can’t relax at home, and children can’t play in the playground. In short, the hearts of the business people who engage in various businesses in Tibetan areas are polluted by this caterpillar fungus. There are many cases where in the beginning, tricky business people from outside make friends with the Tibetans to build trust; raise their hopes with nice words and smiles; in the end, they cheat the Tibetans and leave them empty handed. In short, the caterpillar fungus creates incredible damage to the Tibetan culture and economy.


Translated by Reb Sa


  • Dear Dhondup Tashi Rekjong, you are very right, Yartsa gunbu is not just a blessing, it also creates many problems. A lot of Tibetans have been catapulted from the traditional subsistence economy to a cash economy in a decade or so. The caterpillar fungus money has achieved what Chinese programs could not, the full integration of rural Tibet in the Chinese economy.
    And yes, to some people regular work does not seem worth the time when picking or trading bu can generate such a fortune in such a short time. Creed pops up where before due to lack of opportunity creed would not show its ugly face. Suddenly neighbors charge money for helping each other when a new bu financed house is built and so forth.

    However, the problem is not the fact that Tibetans have access to such a precious resource, something no other rural community has on this globe. Tibetans just face the same moral challenges people face everywhere. And Tibet’s rich tradition has enough wisdom in assisting people how to face the new richness. I think people are better off being challenged with some resources than without resources.
    The community has to realize the income can evaporate at any moment for many reasons [market crash, resource exhaustion, etc] and must invest part of their new “riches” in their future, by investing in education, work opportunities and surely in maintaining their culture. All these issues are easier addressed with financial resources than without, but it is a challenging process and it will surely take some time to move from foolish burning of money, taking on unnecessary debt, manifesting creed and indulging in short-sighted consumerism to a more far sighted approach with smart investment in the future of the community.

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