5月底的青海省玉树州杂多县县城，平 时车水马龙的街道空寂无人。最繁华路段 的三岔路口处除了停着几辆警车和巡逻的 警务人员外，只有零星的戴着白色草帽的人 来回走动。偶有车辆停下来，这些白草帽就 簇拥着将车围拢。“我们每天在这里守着， 等机会收购牧民手中采挖的新鲜虫草，这里 所有本地人都去山上挖虫草去了。”一名中 年男子指着同伴们说。 从5月中旬开始，这个高原之城的一切 都近乎停滞。商店和饭馆要么关门，要么顾 客寥寥，学校全部放假，政府部门的办公室 也基本无人，在编人员都被派去县内各卡点 监督进出车辆，合同工们则放假去挖虫草 了。外人很难想象这个有4万多人居住的县 城平时交通繁忙的景象。事实上，一入夏， 在青藏高原的大部分地区，当冰雪消融，草 原复苏，藏族民众就要开启一段长达两个月 之久的虫草寻觅征程，年年如此。 高原“黄金” 5月22日，在距杂多县大概50公里处 位于苏鲁乡多晓村一处偏远的山坡草场上， 星星点点的一群人散布在山间，他们手拿镐 头，匍匐着身体，慢慢地向前爬行，眼神专 注地寻觅着脚下的每一寸土地。这是苏鲁 乡多晓村内一处主要的虫草采挖点。
午后一点多，24岁的才仁永措告诉记 者，她和丈夫扎西多丁从早上开始到现在， 挖了一共三十多根虫草，按照今年的行情， 大概价值人民币1200元。多晓村是才仁的 娘家，她现在和丈夫住在杂多县，每年虫草 季都会回到苏鲁乡自家草场上采挖虫草。 “我们每天早上7点开始上山，大概晚上8点 下山回到帐篷处。”才仁说，“挖虫草很辛苦， 今年我们从5月15号开始进山采挖，目前来 看，虫草比去年少，因为今年雪下得少。”天 气对虫草的质量和产量有很大影响，因此每 年的收成波动很大。 在不远处的山坡上，一位名叫阿哇的 二十来岁的藏族小伙说，过去几天，他每天 能挖50到60根虫草，也就是一天收入达到 2000元左右。而2017年，青海省年人均收 入为19001元。虫草能带来如此高的收益， 这是当地人趋之
代末起，虫草市场逐渐升温，甚至被描述成 具有壮阳、抗肿瘤、抗氧化、抗衰老等广泛 药理作用的神草，价格一路飙升。现在，当 地牧民手里收购价达每公斤10多万元，而 经过多道中间商不断加价，最后进入内地的 药店或者商场，其价格还会翻三到四倍，超 过黄金的价格。 中国科学院地理科学与资源研究所研 究员徐明表示，“实际上，目前科学证据不 足，还无法证实虫草到底有多大保健价值， 但是这并不重要，就目前而言，虫草神话还 是要维护的。”他补充说：“假如虫草产业崩 溃，可能会有两个原因，一个是生态系统崩 溃导致产量崩溃，另一个是市场价格崩溃， 任何一种情况，都是当地人无法承受的。” 祖籍青海省民和回族土族自治县的何 云峰十七岁来到苏鲁，在附近的寺院给僧 人做饭，没有工资，酬劳就是每年虫草季两 个月可以采挖寺院周边山上的虫草。他说， “上世纪90年代末我来的时候，一根虫草 卖四五块钱，一个虫草季我一个人可以挖 5000根左右。现在虫草价格涨了，但是个 头小了，质量和数量都一年不如一年。现在 一根平均30到40块钱，我去年挖了2000 多根。一年的收入就靠这个。” 冬虫夏草是我国二级保护物种，主要 分布在青海、西藏、四川、云南和甘肃5个省
（自治区）。杂多县位于青海省西南端，与西 藏自治区交界，因为虫草资源丰富且质地优 良，获得了中国“冬虫夏草第一县”的美称。 在杂多县，苏鲁乡是虫草主产区，2017年，其 产量达到全县的一半左右。近二十年来，这 里成为“虫草淘金”的热点地区，也因虫草 带来了可观的经济收入。以2017年为例，杂 多虫草产量达10吨，大约占全国虫草产量的 10％。这给当地带来人均20000元收入。 杂多县委宣传部副部长庞继敏回顾， 杂多历来以畜牧业为主，而虫草在1997年 以前占牧民收入的20％～ 30％，之后因 为虫草市场的繁荣，从2000年开始成为 家庭主要收入，甚至是大部分人的唯一收 入来源。 阻击外来人 在虫草为当地人带来更多收益的同时， 虫草产地也吸引了众多外来人，并且因争抢 资源而发生冲突。早年间，很多地方在虫草 季因为管理不善，导致过多外来人进入，引 起了严重的群体事件。据一位苏鲁当地的采 挖者回忆，在2000年初，虫草采挖季节时常
会有打人事件发生，甚至导致人员伤亡。 因为苏鲁乡虫草资源丰富，长期以来 都是采集者大量涌入的地区。据当地数位 村民回忆，在2005年，因为虫草采挖而爆发 的冲突最为严重。当时苏鲁的邻县囊谦来 的几千名采挖者被苏鲁本地牧民集体阻拦 进入，双方因冲突导致多人受伤和一人死 亡。而同样的时间段，藏区其他一些地方也 相继出现了虫草季的争端和伤人事件。自 2006年起，玉树州以及杂多县分别下文，专 门加强虫草季人员的管理。 据杂多县一位官员介绍，杂多全县6万 多人，如果不进行有序管理，就会进入大量 的外地人，引发矛盾冲突甚至带来安全隐 患。因此，目前杂多的政策是“县外禁止采 挖，县内有序流动，”他解释说，“县内非虫 草产区乡镇的人员可以进入虫草产区的乡 镇采挖，按要求向进入地区的村缴纳虫草采 挖费每人1200元。”该官员补充道：“而孩 子、老人按照身体状况实行减免费用。” 为了避免过度采挖对生态和草场的破 坏，杂多政府规定，每年的虫草采挖时间严 格控制在5月15日至6月30日。以苏鲁乡为
例，其他非虫草产区的本县人员在5月15日 之前和6月30日之后都不允许进入苏鲁采 挖虫草。 苏鲁乡乡长嘎松告诉《中国新闻周 刊》，今年，本县进入苏鲁采挖的外来人员共 有6000多人，而去年有大约7000人，苏鲁 本地人口却仅仅2753人。外来人员的进入势 必很大程度地影响到本地牧民虫草收获的 数量和利益，给本地带来很大的损失。 “作为补偿而象征性收取的虫草采挖 费用每人1200元，一个成年人一般一天就 可以凭挖的虫草赚回来，而苏鲁乡多晓村虫 草费收入今年大概有600万元，扣除管理费 用，剩下的钱将全部分给村民。”苏鲁乡的 扎西宁玛书记认为，这一切都是为了保证 全县的稳定，在此过程中，包括苏鲁乡在内 的部分虫草主产区的牧民做出了很大牺牲。 嘎松算了一笔账，按照一个虫草季每个成年 人平均采挖虫草收益两万元的保守估计，进 入苏鲁的6000人就是带走了1.2亿元收益， 可见虫草产地的一个乡村给整个杂多县做 出的贡献之大。 为了有效管理外来人员进入，在苏鲁
乡境内，在主要路段一共设立了4个大的卡 点，而山上与囊谦县和西藏丁青县交界处的 各个垭口，还设有10个卡点。乡领导和县一 些部门的公务人员分别被下派到不同卡点， 在整个虫草期间，24小时在岗，以防有外来 人员非法进入偷采。 苏鲁乡公安局局长罗松桑丁告诉《中 国新闻周刊》，这几年加强管理效果明显， “现在可以保证没有大事件发生，当然小摩 擦在所难免。”罗松解释道，如果村民在采 挖虫草过程中或者干部巡山时发现有越界 采挖的邻县人员，都会采取和平劝退的方 式。“加上现在老百姓观念改变，素质提高， 更加守法，治安已经大为改观。”罗松说。 此外，出于生态环境保护的目的，虫草 采挖期间，按照当地的佛教传统，杂多县规 定在藏历的10号、15号以及30号，不许挖虫 草。这个时间各乡村的村民负责周边草场
的垃圾清理，将已有的垃圾运输到垃圾集散 点，村民也可以利用休息日到县城采购补 给，售卖采挖的虫草或者在家休息。 5月24日恰逢藏历初十，记者在走访牧 户时确实看到山坡上没有人员采挖。“按照 我们藏传佛教的传统，如果这些特殊日子还 动土挖虫草的话，会特别不吉利，因此我们 都不会在这几天上山。”22岁的藏族青年格 嘉对记者说。 虫草经济泡沫 尽管冬虫夏草已成为藏区重要支柱产 业，在青藏高原的广大地区，虫草数量却因 各种原因在持续减少。当地人对记者表示， 虫草的数量近十年来不断下降。 住在苏鲁巴津沟的丁布江才一家世代 在这片山谷居住，丁布告诉记者，20年前， 一位成年人能很容易一天找上一二百根虫
草，而现在一个人一天能挖到六七十根就 是多的了。他说，现在，虫草的数量和市场 价格都是很不确定的，每年都有变化。“天 气影响虫草的质量和产量，下雨或者下雪太 多、太少都会使产量大幅度下降。” 青藏高原作为世界屋脊，是全球气候 变化最敏感的区域之一。相关科学研究表 明，青藏高原在过去50年间受全球变暖的 影响很大，而这种影响还在持续加剧。主要 表现在气温升高速率显著高于中国和世界 其他地区，同时，降水总量在时间及空间上 呈现不均匀分布。中国科学家研究考察发 现，目前冬虫夏草主要产区的核心分布带位 于海拔4400至4700米，较30 年前上升200 至500 米，并且明显变狭窄。有预测称，单 受气候因素影响，至2050 年冬虫夏草菌的 分布范围净变化将减少17.7％至18.5％。 当地民众认为，冬天下雪少，早春雪化
得早，以及整体气侯变暖等因素是影响虫草 数量的主要原因。此外，他们还表示，草原上 鼠兔泛滥，造成大面积的黑土滩，破坏了已 有的草场，同样使得虫草数量大幅降低。 在杂多县国土资源局局长尼尕眼中，虫 草除了能增加牧民收入外，整体而言是弊大 于利。当地人因为挖虫草不愿干别的事情， 大部分人放弃了畜牧业，而这种相对于放牧 要容易得多的收入方式滋生了浪费和赌博。 “虫草资源还带来本民族不团结，为了虫草 利益而大打出手，”尼尕继续说：“如果虫草 经济的泡沫破灭了，不夸张地说，杂多人会 饿死的，因为畜牧业已经放弃得太彻底了。” 杂多畜牧局提供的数据显示，2017年 年底，全县包括牦牛、绵羊和山羊在内的存 栏牲畜数不足41000只，而在上世纪90年 代末，杂多是百万牲畜大县。杂多畜牧局 工作人员李双业告诉《中国新闻周刊》，当
地放弃牲畜的人很多，这种情况在2006到 2008年期间最严重。“在保证草畜平衡的 前提下，畜牧局曾经在最近几年的一段时间 鼓励牧民进行畜牧养殖，因为我们始终认 为，牧区应该以牲畜养殖作为支柱产业，而 虫草市场虽然繁荣，但是却并不稳定。”李 双业说。 徐明在青海进行生物多样性保护相关 研究近十年，最近几年开始专注虫草资源与 气候变化议题。他认为，虫草资源以及市场 的稳定本身，就是对保护高原生态系统的重 要贡献。“正因为虫草价格现在如此之高， 当地牧民有了钱，跑到西宁买房子，送孩子 到内地上学，很多人把牛羊卖掉了，自觉不 自觉地、直接间接地保护了青藏高原，降低 了草地退化，正是虫草才让生态系统重新有 了生存的机会，发生了变化，得以休养生息， 否则，还要面临上世纪80年代的过牧、放牧
压力，青藏高原退化沙化则会更加严重。” 徐明说，“再者，虫草本身是重要的生 物多样性资源，也需要保护，如果不对采挖 加以有效管理，一些优质的、高价的虫草真 可能有一天灭绝，如果这样，基因资源消失 了，可能会后悔莫及。”徐明的团队从去年 开始专项研究致力于虫草产业保护和振兴。 事实上，自今年5月底开始，网络和微 信平台展开了新一轮探究虫草是否具有保 健价值的热烈讨论。尼尕局长和苏鲁乡的 村民都表示，出于对虫草市场未来的忧虑， 他们担心有朝一日，虫草会像早年藏獒市场 那样，一下子就破灭掉。 但是，至少目前，只要市场和资源还 在，一切就还要继续。5月26日下午，下了 一天的雪刚停，丁布江才一家就装备好了， 向着低海拔的草场出发，据说，那里的雪开 始融化了，一家人期待着新的收获。
This story is produced under the EJN Asia-Pacific Story Grants 2018 with the support of Sweden/SIDA. This story was first published by News China on Aug. 19, 2018.
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Harvesting caterpillar fungus has become the main source of income for many former Tibetan nomads in Qinghai Province, bringing prosperity and uncertainty in equal measure
By Wang Yan Updated Aug.19
In late May, when this reporter arrived in Zaduo County, Qinghai Province, the urban area was deserted. The town’s main street, usually crammed with pedestrians and vehicles, was a ghost town except for a couple of patrolling policemen and a few white-capped businessmen. “All the people here, mostly local Tibetans, have gone to the alpine mountains to dig yarsagumba,” a middle-aged man in a white hat surnamed Zhao said with a grimace. Yarsagumba, a unique fusion of a parasitic fungus and its caterpillar host, is a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine.
“We are here every day waiting for them to come back, ready to buy their stuff,” Zhao said, before explaining that anyone in a white hat such as his was a trader or middleman looking to buy the precious ingredient.
Amid this magic realism, urban life on the plateau was completely suspended, stores and restaurants have shuttered, schools have closed and even some government offices have shut down. A visitor to Zaduo today would not believe the empty town is home to more than 40,000 residents. Indeed, each year, at the beginning of summer, when the snow melts and the grass sprouts on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, ethnic Tibetans from all walks of life begin their seasonal journey in search of the valuable fungus in high-altitude pastures.
They set up their camps and scour the alpine ranges inch by inch during the day, returning to their camps in the evening. This cycle runs for almost two months.
Tibetan Gold Rush
On May 22, around lunchtime on a remote mountain slope 50 kilometers south in Sulu, workers carry iron hoes, crawl slowly on their hands and knees, and meticulously scan the ground. Tsering Tsomo, 24, said that she and her husband Tashi Doldin had already collected around 30 yarsagumba that day, which would fetch roughly 1,200 yuan (US$188) on the market. “Every morning, we set off at around 7am and go back to our home tent at the foot of the mountain at around 7 to 8pm,” said Tsering. “The work is tedious, even hazardous and unpredictable, since the quantity and quality of the harvest depends on the weather.”
On a nearby mountain slope, Awa, a young Tibetan man in his 20s, says that on each of the past few days, he had found roughly 50 or 60, totaling some 2,000 yuan (US$310) in income per day. Considering the per capita annual income in Qinghai Province in 2017 was 19,001 yuan (US$2,970), harvesting yarsagumba is so lucrative for local people that they can’t afford to miss the chance.
According to both traditional Chinese medicine and Tibetan medicine pharmacopeia, yarsagumba has been prescribed for centuries for various conditions, including strengthening the function of the lung and kidneys, reviving energy, stopping hemorrhages and decreasing phlegm.
It is endemic to the Himalayas and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, distributed on alpine grasslands above 3,000 meters in China, India, Nepal and Bhutan. Since the 1990s the competition for this medicinal fungus has intensified – it has gained the nickname “Himalayan Viagra’’ and been promoted as a natural aphrodisiac, a tonic with anti-aging effects and even an anti-tumor agent. It has become one of the most expensive biological medicines in the world with a current local market price of up to 300,000 yuan (US$46,900) per kilogram for caterpillar fungus of the highest quality. When sold on the end market to Chinese consumers, the price is far higher than gold.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the price for one fungus was four to five yuan [US$0.62-0.78]. Within two decades the price increased by more than 10 times,” said He Yunfeng, who migrated from elsewhere in Qinghai Province and has spent the last 19 years in Zaduo during the caterpillar fungus rush.
Inside China, Qinghai Province and Tibet Autonomous Region are the two major regions where yarsagumba can be found. Zaduo County in Yushu Prefecture, as the source region of two major rivers–the Lancang-Mekong and the Yangtze – is famous for the quality and quantity of its yarsagumba. In recent years, Zaduo has been at the center of a fungus “gold rush,” making it one of the fastest growing economies in Qinghai Province. In 2017 alone, total production of yarsagumba there amounted to 10 tons, accounting for almost 10 percent of total national production. This brought approximately a per capita annual income of 20,000 yuan (US$3,120) to the local population.
“Since I was nine, I followed my parents on this pastureland to dig for yarsagumba, when huge numbers of people from other places were allowed to come,” said Tsering Tsomo. “Now I’m married, and yarsagumba is the only source of income for me and my husband because we have settled in the town. We no longer have any yaks on the grassland.” Today, most young and middle-aged Tibetans here are like Tsering, and rely almost exclusively on income generated by yarsagumba.
Pang Jimin, a local culture expert in Zaduo, told NewsChina that yarsagumba harvesting was once a supplementary income for locals, with livestock husbandry the pillar industry. “Collecting these organisms accounted for about 20 to 30 percent of household income for rural Tibetans in the 1990s,” Pang said. “Due to the booming market and high prices, since the early 2000s it has become the dominant or even only income source for people in Zaduo and elsewhere on the grassland.”
Li Shuangye from Zaduo Animal Husbandry Bureau told NewsChina that total livestock numbers in Zaduo have steadily decreased since the yarsagumba boom.
Statistics provided by Li indicate that by the end of 2017, the total number of livestock in the county including yaks, sheep and goats was less than 410,000, down from more than one million in the late 1990s. “We don’t face an overgrazing problem, on the contrary, to reinforce livestock as our county’s major industry we have tried to encourage our people to maintain their tradition of herding,” Li said.
As the resource has brought profit to Tibetans, the growing dependence of the locals on it has sparked violent confrontations between rival collectors. In particular, an influx of outsiders during the harvest period has provoked deadly conflicts. “There were fights every year in the early 2000s and occasionally people were wounded or even killed,” a local collector in Sulu told NewsChina.
Sulu boasts more than half of the total yarsagumba resource in Zaduo, and historically it has become a hotspot for collectors. Local sources suggest conflicts escalated in 2005 when people from the neighboring county of Nangchen pushed through barricades set up by herders in Sulu. The conflict involved thousands of people and resulted in one death.
Ever since, stronger regulations were enforced and the military was even deployed. “Without regulation and systematic management, local herders will charge permit fees to allow outsiders to enter, posing threats and security risks to the 70,000 people of Zaduo County,” Tsedan Druk, Party secretary of Zaduo, told NewsChina. “So we started to prohibit people from outside Zaduo from coming in and digging yarsagumba during the harvest season, but we allow Zaduo locals who live in areas without yarsagumba to move freely to areas that have it.”
To regulate against overharvesting, the Zaduo government has established strict official seasons for yarsagumba harvesting from May 15 until the end of June. In Sulu, collectors from other parts of Zaduo County are allowed in from May 15 onward, and must leave on June 30 without delay. This year, according to Sulu township head Ga Song, more than 6,000 people from outside Sulu arrived for the harvest season – more than twice the local population of 2,753. To compensate for local people’s lost resources, all collectors from outside Sulu must pay entry fees to get a collection permit. Zaduo County fixes the fee for each collection permit at 1,200 yuan (US$187), while children and the elderly are exempt from paying the fee if they meet certain criteria.
“The total revenue of over seven million yuan (US$1.1m) generated from the entry permits will be later distributed among village members,” Tashi Ningma, Party Secretary of Sulu told NewsChina.“Typically an adult collector can easily recoup the fee after a single day’s digging. It is clear that for the sake of maintaining internal stability and improving the lives of people in Zaduo, Sulu locals are making huge sacrifices.”
Inside Sulu, four major roadblocks and 10 checkpoints on roads and mountain passes control the movement of people from Nangchen County and Tibet. Officials from the county government are sent from their offices to these checkpoints. “Local officials are required to man the checkpoints 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we are on high alert during the harvest season to stop people illegally entering,” said Lobsong Sangding, chief of Sulu Police Station. “No major conflicts have occurred in recent years despite a number of illegal entries through mountain passes from neighboring Nangchen County.” Lobsong added that with effective control of outside collectors, and self-policing by local people, non-locals without entry permits can be quickly and easily discovered before they are persuaded to leave.
For better sustainable management of the resources, the local government stops locals from digging yarsagumgba on the 10th, 15th and 30th day of each Tibetan month. Instead they should collect garbage, do their household chores, go to the county center to restock their supplies, or just rest. “Traditionally, these dates are sacred according to Tibetan Buddhist doctrines, and if people continue to work it will be unlucky. All people obey this rule strictly,” Ge Jia, 22, told NewsChinaat his home in Sulu on a rest day in late May.
Although dependence on yarsagumba collection by local Tibetans has increased because of the lucrative income, the quantity of the yarsagumba harvest on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has decreased significantly, locals said.
He Yunfeng, a collector, told NewsChina: “Though the price rocketed during previous decades, the quantity and quality has dwindled. When I first arrived in Zaduo I was 17, and I could dig a total of 5,000 pieces during the summer season. Last year I could barely find 2,000.”
Dingbu Jiangcai, whose family lives in Bajin Valley in Sulu, recalled that 20 years ago an adult could find 100 to 200 yarsagumba a day, but nowadays 60 to 70 was an impressive haul. At his campsite on May 25, Dingbu told NewsChina that the quantity and market price for each year is uncertain. “Changing weather has had a significant impact on the yarsagumba crop. Too much or too little rain or snow can both result in a low harvest.” Scientific studies have found the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is extremely sensitive to global warming, and this warming trend is projected to intensify in the future. Chinese scientists have also found the major distribution area of yarsagumba has moved up to 4,400 to 4,700 meters in elevation, an increase of 200 to 500 meters in the past 30 years. On current trends, this could see the viable range of the fungus reduced by up to 18.5 percent by the year 2050.
Climate change effects, including less snow in winter, an earlier snowmelt in spring and overall warming, are perceived to be major causes of the decline in abundance by most Tibetan caterpillar fungus collectors this reporter interviewed. In addition, destruction of grassland by pikas (small furry mammals) has resulted in severe desertification, further devastating the crop.
In Ni Ga’s view, a senior official in Zaduo, the yarsagumba is both a blessing and a curse for Tibetans. “Generally speaking, I think it has brought more negative impacts than benefits. Depending solely on yarsagumba has made people lazy. With money earned easily, people have squandered their wealth and even gambled it away; it has provoked fights and conflicts among Tibetans. If someday this resource dries up, I fear the people of Zaduo might starve to death, now that so many have completely abandoned their traditional nomadic life,” cautioned Ni.
“The impact on local culture is profound, since people have given up herding, and unfortunately this one-way change cannot be reversed,” said Xu Ming, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
An expert on yarsagumba and climate change, Professor Xu Ming nonetheless added that the resource has contributed to stability in the plateau’s ecological system.
“Due to yarsagumba, local nomads have mostly settled in urban areas, resulting in a reduction of livestock on the grassland, which happened to solve the overgrazing problem that haunted the plateau in the 1980s,” Xu told NewsChina in early June. “Considering the species itself is an important biodiversity resource, I strongly advocate securing the quantity and market price of yarsagumba for the sake of the ecosystem.” This is, according to Xu, also a reason for his team to conduct intensive studies and research to protect and boost the caterpillar fungus industry.
“Existing research is not yet sufficient to prove whether yarsagumba has a high medicinal value, and I think now we still need to defend this fairy tale,” Xu added. Indeed debate on whether yarsagumba is a medicine at all heated up online recently.
For the moment, life will continue in the same way so long as there is a market and a crop. By late afternoon on May 26, a night and a whole morning of snow had fallen. But that didn’t stop Dingbu Jiangcai and his family from gearing up again and heading toward the grassland to continue their harvest.
This story is produced under the EJN Asia-Pacific Story Grants 2018 with the support of Sweden/SIDA. This story was first published by News China on Aug. 19, 2018.