Srinagar: World’s costliest mushroom is feeling the tremors of habitat destruction in Kashmir.
Locally known as ‘Kanegeich’, the morel mushroom is a rare sight in the valley as it cannot be cultivated commercially and instead it grows wild in some forest regions. The vegetable is sold at Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 30,000 per kilogram.
Morels or Gucchis are a delicacy used not only in elaborate feasts of Kashmiri weddings but also feature in the menus of high end restaurants in different parts of the world.
However, with the growing habitat destruction and rapid urbanization, the extraction of prized mushrooms is wavering every year.
Forest Departmentdata accessed by The Kashmir Monitor reveals that 88.90 quintals of morel mushrooms were extracted in 2017-2018 against 281.16 quintals in 2016-17.
Similarly, the 134.75 quintals of morel mushrooms were extracted in 2012-13, which increased to 175.65 quintals and 429.43 quintals in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. This was followed by slump in 2015-16 with only 122.11 quintals being extracted.
An official of the Forest Department said there has been frequent disturbance in the natural eco-system of J&K in the last few years.
“Guchchi mushrooms usually grow on logs of decaying wood or decaying leaves and even in humus soil. They may or not grow in the same spot the next season and they are notoriously unpredictable as they may show up anywhere,” he said.
However, the extractions have been vacillating due to various anthropogenic activities.“This can be attributed to various reasons like rampant constructions, illegal encroachments, increasing forest fires and overgrazing in the forest areas,” he said.
Dr Rouf Hamza Boda, a researcher who has worked extensively on the guchchies, said it is believed that morels share a deep relationship with the roots of Deodar and Pine trees.
“With unchecked deforestation going around, the connection seems to have lost. Mushrooming is a natural occurrence on Himalayan mountain tops,” he said.
Dr Boda noted due to climate change and habitat destruction, the harvesting seasons have shifted to early winter. “Due to modern lifestyle, the mushroom collectors which were mostly women and children have dwindled over the years. They no longer feel inclined towards mushroom picking, which demands a sharp sight and close attention to the ground. If only government showed some concern towards this prized crop and incentivize the collectors, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Researcher at Centre for Bio-diversity and Taxonomy, Kashmir University, Akhtar Malik pointed out that there is threat to the premium vegetable.“Like unauthentic saffron brands posing as original products, the mushrooms are also sold as false morels called `Phosa’. This is mixed with some quantity of original morels for trade purposes,” Malik said.