The caterpillar fungus boom on the Tibetan Plateau: Curse or blessing?

Chenggang Wang, Zeng Tang, Zhibiao Nan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In the last two decades, the Tibetan regions of China have been experiencing a remarkable economic boom fueled by the caterpillar fungus, known in the West as the “Viagra of the Himalayas” or “Tibetan Gold.” This article examines the impacts of the caterpillar fungus boom on Tibetan pastoralists' current-day livelihood and the prospects of their future economic development. Our study is based on a household survey conducted in 2016 covering 58 villages across the Tibetan autonomous land area. Results show that the new stream of cash income from gathering and trading caterpillar fungus has had a strong short-term welfare-improving effect. Household consumption, healthcare spending, and religious charity have risen sharply with caterpillar fungus income. Unfortunately, the fungus boom has not brought about productive investment or human capital accumulation that is conducive to long-term growth. Rather, the resource windfall has created disincentives for school attendance, nonfarm labor participation, and productivity improvements in pastoralism. The resource boom-induced disinvestments, if persistent, will likely further limit the capabilities of rural Tibetans to compete in the urban labor market, reinforcing the emerging trend of socioeconomic marginalization. We contextualize these findings in terms of Tibetans' cultural and economic rationale, pointing out new directions for future research and policymaking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalChina Economic Review
Volume47
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Keywords

  • Caterpillar fungus
  • Resource curse
  • Resource windfalls
  • Tibetan pastoral society

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