How Early Summer Cost Kashmir Its Lucrative Harvest This Year

With high nutritious and medicinal value, the morel mushroom, known as ‘Kanegeich’ in Kashmir, is the world’s costliest mushroom.

By Sheeba Wani

WITH sweltering summer yet to peak in Kashmir, the intense heat-waves this spring already made the season of rejuvenation a “season of suffering” for Saleem Dar and his clan in Kashmir Himalayas.

His tribe’s troubles equally stemmed from the record-breaking scanty rainfall that ended their early-morning jungle jaunts for the lucrative harvest.

“Heat-waves and scanty rainfall this past spring robbed us of our traditional livelihood,” Saleem, a native of Srinagar’s Harwan area, told Kashmir Observer. “Our prized crop had hardly mushroomed this time around and thus ended our springtime visits on disappointed note. It was truly a heartbreaking season.”

The morel or guchhi collection starts from March and April every year. But the summer-like situation this spring, experts say, didn’t let guchhis to grow. The scanty spring rainfall further doomed the crop.

As the hottest spring month in 131 years, March 2022—the starting time for morel collection—recorded 80 per cent less rainfall than average, with Srinagar receiving only 21.3mm of rain, against a normal of 117.6mm.

“This is a clear sign of climate change now impacting our flora and fauna in Kashmir,” said Dr. Imtiyaz Dar, an Environmental Science lecturer from Srinagar. “What’s alarming is that this change is coming at a huge cost, impacting the livelihood of high-altitude residents of Kangan, Anantnag and Kupwara.”

As the world’s costliest mushroom, morels are found in Kashmir apart from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Characterized by their honeycomb heads and oblong-bulbous appearance, they grow on the bark of old trees and in grasslands in cold wet weather.

“But now, their growing pattern is also changing in Kashmir,” Dr. Imtiyaz said. “Most of the morels grow on old and rotten apple trees, now being replaced by high-density small trees in various Kashmir orchards. This orchard change is also adding to the overall production woes.”

Climate change and shifting farm scenario apart, Kashmir’s geographical position in the north-west Himalaya range makes it an ideal place for guchhi growth, Dr. Imtiyaz continued.“And then,” he said, “because of its profitability [Gucchis are sold at around Rs 30,000 per kilogram in the market], a large section of countryside people are actively involved in morel collection. In this backdrop, the current season has only come as a shocker for large number of people in Kashmir.”

What makes this mushroom equally marketable is its immense medicinal value.“Its rich nutrient content makes it an antitumor, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant crop,” said Dr. Shabnum Rashid, a nutritionist.“It’s equally good for the heart and liver.”

But before the early-summer spoiler this year, the experts have been decrying the growing urbanization and habitat destruction for the decreasing morel crop in Kashmir.

Morel production, according to the 2018-19 Digest of Forest Statistics from the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department, fell from 2,000 quintals in 1991 to 88 quintals in 2018.

And while the latest figures remain ‘work in progress’, many are already painting a grim picture of the wild mushroom quietly fading inside the climate-change hit Kashmir forests.

“The spring used to be such a festive occasion for us,” Saleem Lamented at his highland house in Harwan. “But now, it seems, even our jungles have become jinxed places for us.”

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