Maude Plante-Husaruk

Photos by Maude Plante-Husaruk
Interview by Alexis Aubin

The Himalayan Gold Dream


Every year, thousands of Nepalese spend several months each year picking the “yarsagumba”, also known as the “caterpillar mushroom”. This product is composed of a mycelium that parasitizes the larvae of moths living in the Himalayan soil at altitudes above 3000 meters. The fungus kills and mummifies the caterpillar and then a stroma grows from the head of the caterpillar, ensuring the reproductive cycle.

Yarsagumbas are used in traditional Chinese medicine for their aphrodisiac virtues. They became popular with the general public in 1993 after two Olympian women attributed their world records for long-distance running to high altitude training and the consumption of “caterpillar mushrooms”.

From there, increased demand in China created new economic opportunities for the Nepalese people. A deep craze for picking has emerged as a modern-day gold rush. While some have managed to get rich in recent years, the future looks less promising.

Over-harvesting and climate change are hindering the reproduction of the species. The quantities of yarsagumba continue to decrease each season to the point where the resource is in danger of being depleted.

It is also the whole of an ancestral way of life that has been shaken. Entire villages that were then self-sufficient have become dependent on a resource that is only consumed abroad.

As Maude Plante-Husaruk, who documented the harvest period for several weeks, explains, the integration into the world market and the arrival of large amounts of capital in the communities have upset the entire collective organization: “These are regions that were completely disconnected from the road and air networks. Then all of a sudden, money was injected into them, which profoundly changed the economic structure. This had a ripple effect and affected several cultural and social aspects. People no longer buy locally produced goods. You become dependent on another way of life. We want to be part of this new globalized context, the modernization of life, when the resources are not really there. So they have to import them.

In this sense, the dynamics mobilizing around the yarsagumbas highlight the balance of forces governing world markets.

According to Maude Plante-Husaruk: “What struck me was the immense socio-economic disparity between the harvesters, Nepalese merchants, Chinese merchants and consumers. We are literally at the two socio-economic poles. The disparity could not be greater than that. …] The resource is so expensive, an ounce is sold for between a thousand and two thousand US dollars. This highlights the dynamics of a globalized capitalist economy where the people at the base of production are subject to the laws of globalized supply and demand and completely disconnected from their reality. »

Maude Plante-Husaruk
Maude Plante-Husaruk est une photographe et réalisatrice documentaire canadienne s'intéressant aux réalités des populations recluses ou marginalisées, sensible à la résilience de l’humain devant l’adversité. Interpellée depuis dix ans par les cultures isolées du sous-continent indien et d'Asie centrale, elle met en image des histoires inspirantes et profondément humaines, espérant sensibiliser les gens aux dénominateurs communs qui pavent notre existence et détiennent un pouvoir rassembleur. Motivée par le désir d'approfondir la maîtrise de son art, Maude continue de travailler sur plusieurs projets long terme dans la région.
Alexis Aubin
Alexis Aubin a étudié les communications à l’UdeM et la photographie au collège Marsan. Que ce soit comme photojournaliste ou en tant que communicateur pour des organismes humanitaires, il utilise les médias afin de sensibiliser et informer sur les défis auxquels nous devons faire face collectivement.