Michelle Stewart Portrait
Ph.D. 2013
Human Geography

Areas of interest: Environmental Conservation and Economic Development in China; Sustainable Management
Faculty Advisor: Emily Yeh


2013 - The Rise and Governance of 'Himalayan Gold': Transformations in the Caterpillar Fungus Commons of Tibetan Yunnan, China

Research Interests

Contemporary Tibetan livelihoods across the Tibetan Plateau depend extensively on profits earned through Ophiocordyceps sinensis harvesting. O. sinensis is a rare fungus endemic to the Tibetan Plateau that is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. The income harvesters earn in the short six-week harvesting season accounts for 50-80% of their annual cash income, making it the single most important constituent of rural Tibetan economies today. Rising market price and demand for O. sinensis has resulted in an increased number of harvesters throughout harvesting seasons and the sustainability of the resource remains uncertain.

Emphasizing a political ecological approach, my research broadly examines the ways in which O. sinensis resource characteristics, harvesting practices, and the broader political economy interact with and influence one another, how these relations change over time, and how they relate to resource management frameworks. My methods include semi-structured and informal interviews, ecological sampling and transects, focus groups, and participant observation. I began preliminary fieldwork on this topic during summer 2007 and 2008, and conducted extensive research during 2009 when I lived in Shangri-la, Yunnan, for ten months with support from a IIE Fulbright award. I have been conducting this research in affiliation with the Kunming Institute of Botany, Yunnan.