CHITRAL: The production of morels is on decline in the forests of Chitral due to free grazing, climate change and deforestation, according to experts.
The record, maintained by a government organisation, shows that decrease in production of morels is 25 per cent per year. Morel is edible fungi, which is grown in different areas of the district. It is a major source of income for many families, who collect it in the forest.
The harvesting season of morels starts from April and lasts for two months. The villagers throng forests and highland pastures to collect it and then sell it in the local market.
The black morel of the district was popular in the past when former rulers of Chitral collected it through their subjects and sent it as gift to the viceroy of India and the rulers of different princely states.
Roigar Khan, a resident of Karimabad, said that two of his sons collected morels in the forest during the season, which lasted for two months. He said that they brought about 1.5 to 2 kilograms morels from the forest and pastures. It was the major source of income of the family, he added.
Mr Khan said that he brought morels to Chitral city where it was sold at higher rate than the local shops situated in his valley.
As per data available with an NGO working on livelihood, six to eight tonnes morels have been collected in Bumburate, Mulen Gol, Golen, Sheshi Koh and Ursoon.
However, the quantity of collected morels is on steady decrease while no data is available for the valleys of Lot Koh, Mastuj, Mulkhow and Torkhow.
Abdul Ahad Baig, an official of the NGO, said that despite the bumper production in the area, there was no system for marketing of morels as a result of which the collectors sold their assortment at throwaway price to the local traders.
He said that last year, fresh morels were purchased by the local shopkeepers at Rs1,000 to Rs1,200 per kilogram but the same was sold at Rs6,000 in the national market after dehydrating it. He said that an individual was recorded to collect about 30 to 40 kilograms morels during the season.
Mr Baig said that overgrasing of pastures was ruinous for the growth of morels.
Ejaz Ahmed, an official of the directorate of Non-Timber Forest Produce, said that training to the local communities on sustainable harvesting, processing and marketing of morels was started in Chitral during the past couples of years.
He said that the dry temperate forests of Chitral provided an ideal habitat for the production of morels while sensitisation of the communities flanking the forest areas was needed for its sustainability and arresting its degeneration.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2017