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Challenge to save Chilgoza & wild mushrooms in HP

Shimla, June 22 (UNI) Massive green felling, construction of hydro and road projects in Himachal Pradesh
pose a challenge to protect the unique and highly nutritious natural produce ''Chilgoza' and Gucchi, a wild mushroom (Botanical name Morchella esculenta).
Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, Technology and Environment (HIMCOSTE), Shimla and Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI) are working together on conservation of Chilgoza and wild mushrooms in the state.
Deliberation on the issue will take place here on June 23, spokesman of HIMCOSTE Kunal Satyarthi told UNI.
'A project worth Rs. 1.96 crore on studies on improving livelihood generation through scientific interventions in Pinus gerardiana Wall. and important wild mushrooms in HP' has been sanctioned by Department of Science & Technology (DST), Govt. of India, jointly to the two institutes for a period of three years.
This study aims to improve the livelihood generation of local farmers through scientific interventions in (i) Pinus gerardiana Wall and (ii) important wild mushrooms in state also called Gucchhi in local parlance.
Pinus gerardiana is famous and is known as Chilgoza or Neoza Pine and 'Ree' in Kinnaur, Miri in Chamba and Chiri or Galboza, Kashti in Kashmir and Chilgoza/Jhalgoza in Afghanistan.
This pine is native to the North-Western Himalaya in eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India. It is commonly found in Sutlej Valley in Kinnaur District, Pangi and Bharmour in Chamba district at 1800 to 3350 meters above msl.
Natural regeneration of Chilgoza Pine is very low due to many biotic and abiotic factors. It is well known for its edible nuts. The nuts locally called and marketed as "Neoza or Chilgoza" is eaten as dry fruits which are rich in oil, starch, proteins and albumenoids. It is one of the most important cash crops of tribal people residing in the Kinnaur district of this hill state.
Unscientific extraction of Neoza nuts, grazing and its use as timber and resinous touchwood have made Chilgoza Pine an endangered conifer of the Himalayas. A temporary research station is being set up at Reckong Peo for carrying out preliminary research during field work. Additionally, a nursery is also being set up in collaboration with HP Forest Department to raise seedlings of Chilgoza pine.
Having nutritive, and economic or food value like dry nuts, it was listed in the near threatened category as per IUCN. Severe biotic interference and lack of regeneration in this pine may result in its extinction in years to come.
There is an urgent need to conserve this valuable pine besides multiply its forests with modern innovation. Moreover, in-depth studies on current harvesting practices, seed maturity indices, longevity and variability among seed sources in Pinus gerardiana would be carried out for development of suitable strategies for its conservation.
Mapping of geographical areas where P gerardiana and best seed sources grow will be done through Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System (RS-GIS) techniques.
Further, large variety of edible and wild mushrooms is found in the hill state. Gucchhi is very well known and highly prized in national and international market for its taste and medicinal properties. There are various communities who use traditional knowledge to identify the edible, poisonous and medicinal mushrooms as herbal remedies to cure different types of diseases.
An inventory of important mushroom species of state would be prepared through scientific inputs, biochemical analysis and standardizing harvesting & preservation techniques for their conservation. Geo-tagging of mushroom species on the basis of their location in the study area would be done by using RS-GIS methods. Potential mushroom species will be identified for future cultivation programme, he added.
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