Gucchi (Morchella)

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Gucchi of Doda

Dr Narinder Paul , Gucchi of Doda "Daily Excelsior" 14/5/2017

When comes to mind the delicacy of wild edible mushrooms, the name of gucchi which are also called morels immediately comes into the mind of those who have either seen it or tasted its unique flavour. Majorly it is found in the conifer forests across temperate regions and is the most expensive naturally growing variety of mushroom. As if one believes the reports of scientists and environmentalists; its production is on the decline. Professionals assign unscientific plucking practices of this mushroom a reason behind its declining production. Interestingly many might have missed the naturally growing view of gucchi delightfully grown among the forest trees making it a fantastic gift of nature and a highly lavish food item. There is a great craze among those who know about gucchi and they yearn for its use based on their choice of taste. Admirers of this mushroom cravingly demand and go barmy for even a spoonful of this commodity in their plates. Its unique flavour and health benefits further make it a wild specialty.

Gucchi mushroom (Morchella esculenta L.), commonly known as morel mushrooms or simply morels belongs to the Morchella family. Being a unique natural forest product and delicacy of temperate regions, it is known for its production in wilderness. Jammu and Kashmir state is naturally gifted with the blossoms of this mushroom in both the divisions. The State Forest Department earns royalty over gucchi by leasing out the forest ranges to the private contractors. In Jammu division, it grows in almost all hilly districts. As regards District Doda, all the areas are exceptionally gifted by the nature with this delightful food item. Locally known as “thunthoo”, it is a familiar commodity among natives spread in the entire areas of the district. Local people in general and those belonging to the farming community in particular traditionally follow the practice of collection of gucchi in the district from the forest areas from generations together. Distinguishing Gucchi from other edible wild types is a very imperative skill needed as a safety measure. They posses traditional wisdom and community inherited skills to distinguish it from other mushroom. Three distinct type of gucchi have been found in the district according the color i.e. blackish, brownish and creamy white coloured. Most of the collected gucchi is exported to the Europe through along chain of middlemen, where there are great admirers of these edible fungi.

Gucchi holds a special place among the costlier food items. It is an excellent and elite food item because of high cost. Eating gucchi is considered a very act of excellence in elite societies. Its consumers are those who can afford a vegetable of Rs 1500-2000 per 100 grams. Most of the consumers of gucchi are those elites who have no thought of where these are grown, how these are collected and through how many phases these pass before reaching their plates on their dining tables. Strangely, those who collect gucchi rarely consume it. Majorly they collect it for selling to earn money rather than consuming at their households. Prem Raj, a retired teacher turned farmer from Kelad area of the Bhaderwah says, “We only collect it and don’t consume as 250 grams of it fetches 3000-5000 rupees, so, why should we lose handsome amount to be earned in one single vegetable, we prefer to eat other wild species of mushroom including kundi and teundh rather than gucchi, which we keep for selling.” He also told that he used to collect and sell gucchi since the year 1965 when it was sold at the rate of Rs 20 per kg, in 1967 the rate was Rs 25 per kg. It proves that it was a high value delicacy earlier also. Another elder Swami Raj from the village Droundi reported that he is witnessing the farmers collecting and selling gucchi since 1942 when its cost was Rs 2.50 per Kg. The market trends now are not encouraging for the gucchi collectors.

It constitutes the quickest means of earning for the forest dwellers of the district, which have their socio-economic bond with this mushroom. Collecting and selling guchhi is an important means of supplementing their household income. A peculiar collection system as well as pattern is followed by the collectors which are the local residents in general. Children and women are the collectors from the vicinity of villages and outside the forests. However, males in groups penetrate deep inside the dense forests for its collection. It is majorly sold in the dry condition. It is either sundried singly or making garlands or is hanged in the kitchen, exposed to the heat of the traditional chulla and is then put in the storage bags waiting for the agents of the contractors to collect it from the doorsteps of the collectors. Middlemen incise huge share of the hard labour of the collectors of this mushroom who are at the tail ends. Farmers who collect this mushroom from the forest areas reported that during 2013, they sold it at the rate of Rs 16,000-18,500 per Kg, in 2014 the sale rate declined to Rs 15,500-16,300 per Kg; in 2015 they got Rs 9,500-11,700 per kg. In 2016, farmers sold it at the rate of Rs 9,300-12,500 per Kg. Farmers get quite high rates during the years of low production. Whereas, higher production leads to low sale rates at farmers’ level. This year, the production of gucchi is expected to be low due to abrupt rise in temperature during the month of April. The farmers however, are expecting high rates this year.

For years the technique of artificial growing of morel was thought impossible. Many tried and failed to cultivate morels indoors. Ronald D. Ower reported the first success in 1982 and was eventually awarded a patent along with Gary Mills and James Malachowski. Their work ignited the hope for indoor morel growing. But the uniqueness of natural growing gucchi with its distinct taste and natural existence of gucchi of Jammu region has no substitute which is a blessing in disguise for the forest dwellers and consumers as well. What is needed is to conserve our natural resources so that the cruel hands of development could not pound the eco-balance and snatch the bundles of naturally growing gifts including gucchi.

Moreover, the need of the hour is to document and refine the traditional plucking methods and then to train the gucchi collectors in scientifically refined methods of plucking and value addition at the farmers’ level. The development of value added products of this unique natural product can not only save the native guchhi collectors from middlemen but also create demand among the local elite consumers (© Author, 2017).

(The author is from Krishi Vigyan Kendra Doda, SKUAST-Jammu)

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