Beyond Resistance: A Political Ecology of Cordyceps as Alpine Niche Product in the Garhwal, Indian Himalaya

Authors: Laura Caplins*, Nature-Link Institute, Keith Bosak, University of Montana , Sarah Halvorson, University of Montana
Topics: Natural Resources, Mountain Environments, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: alpine, niche product, Indigenous People, mountain livelihoods, cordyceps, Garhwal Himalaya
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Stones Throw 1 - Granite, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This article examines the factors and processes that influence the collection of cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) an emerging alpine niche product in the Garhwal Himalaya of north India. Cordyceps, as it is commonly known, is a medicinal fungus that grows in high elevation meadows of vast areas of the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau. As one of the most valuable biological resources in the world, its collection and sale is highly lucrative for Garhwali families. Our investigation of cordyceps-related harvest and market interests reveals how mountain geographies and conservation policies interact to shape the ways in which local residents, the Bhotiya, engage with this unique alpine-based commodity. This unusual fungus is at the center of a livelihood strategy which is leveraged by nearly all study participants in this research setting, regardless of economic standing and social categories of difference. We also find that alpine meadows, and the natural capital contained within these spaces, are largely viewed as falling under customary resource governance frameworks, regardless of state-imposed conservation policies that dictate otherwise. In most cases, state conservation policies curtailing access to meadows are largely ignored, and local regimes governing alpine resources are followed. Our analysis demonstrates how resistance to exogenous conservation efforts has shifted in light of expanded livelihood choices, thereby suggesting the need for new interpretations of niche product development schemes and Indigenous governance regimes pertaining to alpine meadows.

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