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| Last Updated:14/11/2018

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Guchhi disappears from mountains, price skyrockets

MANALI: Guchhi (morchella esculenta), a species of edible mushroom, which grows in fruit orchards and jungles in hilly areas, has yet again disappointed hundreds of collectors and food connoisseurs. Unpredictable environment has taken toll on its production over the years and now it seems to have reached close to extinction in Himachal Pradesh.

Despite good snowfall and rain, this year too guchhi disappointed a large number of people who used to collect it for commercial purpose. Morchella esculenta is one of the most expensive vegetables. It grows naturally in spring season after mid-February. Demand for guchhi is growing but supply is decreasing every year. Guchhi was available for Rs 2,000 to Rs 3000 per kilogramme a few years ago but now its prices have crossed Rs 10,000 per kilogramme. It is mostly served in five star hotels and restaurants.

"We have left collecting guchhi. It is as tough as searching for gold," said Meena Devi, a local guchhi collector in Kullu. She added that collecting guchhi was an extra source of income for hundreds of people in the area. "We used to collect it from apple orchards in late February and March and then in the jungles in April," she added

Guchhi was found in large scale in Kullu, Shimla, Kinnaur, Chamba and Mandi districts in spring season. Many people used to collect it to cook in their own kitchen, while others for commercial purpose. Shamsher Singh, a local vendor, said, "In 1990s I used to buy as much as a quintal or more guchhi. 2008 was the last time I was in this business and could not buy more than 15kg guchhi. People now say that searching a tiger is easier than searching for guchhi."

Guchhi has several herbal qualities and locals in Himachal have been using it to treat many diseases. A weeklong guchhi fair is also held in Banjar town of Kullu every year where traders from across the country come to buy and sell dry guchhi.

Great Himalayan National Park director Bhupiner Rana, who has carried out research on morchella esculenta in the past, said there is no clear evidences why its production is declining. "It cannot be cultivated. It grows naturally. I had met an Indian-American research scholar few years ago who said unscientific plucking of guchhi was the main reason behind decline in its production. Guchhi is a fungus and he had suggested people to cut its stem and let the root remain inside the earth so that guchhi can grow at the same area next year," he said.