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Border closures, battle threaten ‘shipadi’ fungus commerce in distant northern Myanmar — Radio Free Asia


Pandemic-related border closures and journey restrictions beneath army rule are taking their toll on the commerce of “shipadis,” a uncommon fungus prized in China for its alleged therapeutic properties, in line with the ethnic Rawan who hunt it in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state.

The shipadi is a species of parasitic Cordyceps fungi whose spores infect caterpillars, inflicting them to crawl upwards earlier than killing them. After the caterpillar dies, the fruit of the fungus grows out of its head in a bid to additional unfold its spores.

Whereas shipadi develop primarily in China’s Tibet Autonomous Area, the place they’re often known as “yartsa gunbu,” the Myanmar variant is discovered solely on the bottom, bushes, and glaciers of northern Kachin state’s distant Puta-O area, close to Myanmar’s borders with India and China.

The ethnic Rawan who inhabit the area hunt for the fungus they name “Poe Say Nwe Pin” in Might and June annually, when the climate warms and the ice has thawed. The highly-coveted golden-colored shipadi is generally discovered on the glaciers of Phonrin Razi, Phangram Razi, and Madwe, and may seem as occasionally as as soon as each 4 years.

Aung Than, an area dealer, instructed RFA Burmese that previous to the pandemic, retailers exported the vast majority of their shipadi to China, the place they might count on wholesome earnings resulting from their use in conventional Chinese language medication as a remedy for kidney illness. Nevertheless, China closed its borders quickly after the coronavirus started to unfold globally in early 2020, forcing shipadi merchants to discover a new marketplace for their product.

“Previously, when border crossing was simple, they purchased shipadi from us,” he mentioned.

“However we can’t go there anymore and so they cannot come to us both. It’s been greater than two years now since I misplaced the market in China.”

Aung Than mentioned that because the pandemic, home demand had grown for shipadi, however merchants might not count on to earn the earnings they as soon as had.

A shipadi pokes out of the ground in Puta-O township. Credit: RFA
A shipadi pokes out of the bottom in Puta-O township. Credit score: RFA

Hazard from battle

Different Rawan shipadi merchants in Kachin state instructed RFA that the market had been additional impacted by preventing between junta troops and ethnic Kachin rebels because the army seized management of Myanmar in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021.

Daw Hla, the proprietor of an natural retailer in Puta-O, mentioned she frequently offered to clients from Myanmar’s large cities, together with Yangon and Mandalay, previous to the coup. However a rise in clashes between the Kachin Independence Military (KIA) and the army because the takeover had made it extra harmful to hunt shipadi and ship it out of the area, she mentioned.

“I used to ship them to Yangon, Naypyidaw and different cities, in addition to throughout Kachin state. I’d ship them as quickly as I acquired the orders,” she mentioned.

“The transportation was OK and gross sales have been good up to now. However this 12 months, I don’t have a lot [shipadi] to promote. There’s little product available this 12 months – it’s getting very uncommon.”

Sources instructed RFA that the KIA had not too long ago seized a army camp in Puta-O’s Tsum Pi Yang village, and that preventing alongside the primary street from Puta-O to the Kachin state capital Myitkyina had develop into notably fierce because the anniversary of the coup, making it extraordinarily harmful to journey within the space.

A collection of shibadi gathered in Puta-O township. Credit: RFA
A set of shibadi gathered in Puta-O township. Credit score: RFA

A dangerous journey

Residents of Puta-O township type teams of 5 or 6 annually to climb the mountains and seek for shipadi, and may spend months away from house through the hunt.

One resident named Lan Wan Ransan instructed RFA that looking shipadi has at all times been dangerous, notably through the wet season when flash floods are widespread. Different occasions, he mentioned, the snow and ice might not have thawed sufficient, making the trek into the mountains lethal and the seek for shipadi practically not possible.

“There are a lot of difficulties alongside the best way,” he mentioned.

Usually, a single shipadi might fetch 2,000-3,000 kyats (U.S. $1-1.50), Lan Wan Ransan mentioned, however the value has doubled this 12 months, because of the added hazard of the battle. Most hunters will solely discover round 50 shipadis this 12 months, he added, calling it a major lower from years previous.

Along with shipadi, the Rawan additionally collect herbs within the mountains of Puta-O which might be not often discovered elsewhere, together with the roots of the Khamtauk, Machit, Taushau, and Kyauk Letwar vegetation, in addition to ice ginseng. Nevertheless, none are as highly-prized because the caterpillar fungus from the glaciers of northern Kachin state, they are saying.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.



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