Accepted paper:

From pastoralists to gatherers. Tibetan nomads vis-à-vis the capitalist economy


Emilia Sulek (Humboldt University in Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

Tibetan pastoralists in many areas of China earn their living not only from the pastoral economy, but also from collecting Ophiocordyceps sinensis, a medicinal fungus growing on Tibetan plateau. This paper shows how this cash impacts the lives of the pastoralists and their livelihood strategies.

Paper long abstract:

Pastoralists in many Tibetan areas of China earn their living from other than pastoral economy. Their budgets are fueled by the income from Ophiocordyceps sinensis (caterpillar fungus), medicinal fungus growing on the Tibetan plateau. Growing demand for caterpillar fungus and its high prices made it the main supplier of cash to the pastoral households. This paper shows how this cash from collecting and selling caterpillar fungus impacts the lives of the pastoralists and their livelihood strategies. The trade with caterpillar fungus grew into an important private trade sector in the period of economic liberalization. In the 2000s the wholesale prices in the pastoral regions reached already 8,000 British pounds per half a kilogram of fungi. Faced with such income the pastoralists invested more and more forces into gathering caterpillar fungus and became increasingly dependent on it. This paper analyzes household budgets, animal husbandry patterns and mobility in a community of Tibetan pastoralists in north-eastern Tibetan plateau. It argues that the development of the caterpillar fungus economy triggered many developments in this society, leading it from pastoralism with addition of subsidiary gathering, to a primarily gathering economy with pastoralism practiced for subsistence and lifestyle reasons. Whether this is a short-term effect of the caterpillar fungus market craze in China, or part of a long-term transformation making the pastoralists into something else is a big question to ask. This paper sums up the results of the doctoral research conducted in 2007-2010 in Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, China.

panel MMM09
The emerging world of pastoralists and nomads (IUAES Commission on Nomadic Peoples)