Home News Matsutake mushroom prices soar amid climate change in China

Matsutake mushroom prices soar amid climate change in China

Matsutake mushroom prices soar amid climate change in China
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For years, China has been one of the world’s biggest suppliers of a rare delicacy: the matsutake mushroom. But this year, a prolonged drought and heat waves in the south of the country have reduced the harvest and sent prices soaring.

Matsutake – “pine mushrooms” in Japanese – are prized in many other Asian countries for their rarity and distinct spicy flavor, which comes with a tinge of cinnamon and cypress. They are often served grilled and in rice and soups. Japan, the world’s largest consumer of matsutake, reserves nearly all of the domestic harvest for its own consumption and imports a large amount from China, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture. Middle-class Chinese consumers are also acquiring a growing taste for the mushroom.

Mushroom traders were expecting matsutake prices to start falling towards the end of August, when large quantities of lesser quality mushrooms hit the market. But that didn’t happen. Instead, some production bases in Yunnan – the southwest Chinese province that accounts for a third of China’s matsutake production and around 70% of exports – have seen the harvest drop by up to 90% this year. , local officials told Chinese financial outlet Caixin.

Rising wholesale prices in China, coupled with logistical disruptions caused by the coronavirus and escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait, are driving up the cost of matsutake mushrooms at the table. At the Mushuihua mushroom market in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, matsutake is sold for around $70 a pound – still much cheaper than most Japanese varieties, although prices have doubled over the past 12 month.

“Last year’s harvest was already low, but this year it is significantly lower,” said Zhao Jiuen, a mushroom wholesaler in Diqing, a mountainous region in Yunnan.

There is no sign [prices are] going to go down anytime soon,” he said, though he added that the quality of this year’s crop “also sucks.”

Scientists attribute the scarcity to climate change, with huge swathes of China scorched by the fiercest heat wave in 60 years.

Yunnan, like many provinces in southern China, experienced its hottest and driest summer since Beijing set official weather records in 1961. Zhaotong, a mountainous city in the north of the province known for its warm mild, recorded a record high of 111.2 degrees Fahrenheit in July. A county in Zhaotong began rationing drinking water amid drought.

“Extreme weather conditions like this year have a bad effect on the growth and quality of matsutake, and longer-term climate change will definitely make the yield more unstable,” said Xu Jianchu, a Chinese professor of ethnoecology. who is also a scientist at the World Agroforestry Center.

The relatively warm winter and dry spring in China did not help the mushroom harvest. Matsutake, which grows near pine trees in high-altitude regions and is affected by long-term weather conditions, is “more vulnerable and sensitive” to environmental changes than other types of fungi, he said.

China closes factories and rations power as heatwave stifles economy

But climate change may not be the only cause of matsutake’s precarious decline, wrote Yang Xuefei, a biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a 2012 study published in the journal Fungal Diversity. She said over-harvesting of the species in some areas had contributed to a 5% annual decline in production since the late 1990s.

In 2020, matsutake was designated as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A year later, China added it to a list of protected species.

In Japan, where the annual yield of matsutake has dropped by 95% since 1941, according to a 2008 study, researchers are trying to establish an artificial cultivation technique, but with limited success.

In China, farmers try to help the fungus grow and maximize financial gain by spraying nearby water and adjusting leaf litter cover. But these efforts are largely futile in the face of a major drought like the one the country is facing.

“Matsutake is vital to my business and the local economy, so I hope the situation will improve next year,” said Zhao, the mushroom merchant.


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