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3 Management: wild edible fungi, trees, forest users


The management of wild edible fungi and their sustainable production must address two key topics: first, forests and their management and second, forest users. Successful management of wild edible fungi balances the impact and effects of collection and harvesting against the wider aims of forest management. These wider aims are determined by the relative importance of different forest uses. Are wild edible fungi more valuable than other NWFP, for example, and how do they compare in financial benefits with wood production? Some forests have a strategic as well as economic importance: they protect water catchments and fragile sloping land; they help to conserve biodiversity.

The challenge for planners and policy-makers is to balance the competing demands on forests and provide a framework within which forest managers can operate effectively. For wild edible fungi this means minimizing the impact of harvesting while allowing collectors fair and equitable access to forests; it means addressing the concerns of biologists who believe that commercial extraction is unsustainable while allowing local enterprises to develop. The sustainable production of wild edible fungi therefore has social, economic and even political dimensions.

Forest is used here in the general sense of areas where trees either occur naturally or are planted. The bulk of wild edible fungi harvests in terms of volume and value comes from species that form mycorrhizal associations with trees. Without the mycorrhizas the trees would grow poorly and the ecological integrity of forests around the world would be threatened. The impact of wild edible fungi harvesting should not disturb the mutual dependency of fungus and tree. The biology and ecology of wild edible fungi are therefore important, as is a fundamental knowledge of which species grow with particular trees. There are still many gaps in knowledge concerning edible ectomycorrhizal fungi and tropical tree species.

Forestry users include those who obtain wood products and NWFP (of which wild edible fungi are only one example). Forests also provide a range of services, some specific to particular users and others more generally valued. Ecological functions include protection of water catchments, erosion control and conservation of biodiversity. Forests provide social benefits, a place for leisure, sports and enjoying nature. The relationship between harvesting wild edible fungi and other products and services derived from forests needs to be understood and adjustments made to practices and management guidelines.

Decisions such as these depend on good data. There is widespread concern about unsustainable forest practices, including harvesting of wild edible fungi. This needs to be carefully examined using available data on yields, amounts harvested and other information about production. These topics are discussed later in this chapter.

Management of wild edible fungi has tended to concentrate on their biology and ecology, particularly those of high economic value. There is a considerable literature on truffles, for example (Federation-Française-des-Trufficulteurs, 2001), but few studies of edible species of Russula or Lactarius, many of which are collected and consumed locally in developing countries. Researchers are paying more attention to the complex relationships between biological, social and economic issues, a welcome move towards establishing a sound basis for sustainable production of wild edible fungi.

Much has been written, relatively speaking, about matsutake (Box 4). This is an important export from several developing countries and there have been several accounts that examine the commercial harvesting in the wider context of forests and forest users (Winkler, 2002; Yeh, 2000). The Pacific northwest of north America is another area where management issues have been examined in detail (Pilz and Molina, 2002; Tedder, Mitchell and Farran, 2002). These studies are particularly useful in describing collectors and collecting practices and they provide a useful contrast to the few studies carried out for subsistence collections in developing countries (Lowore and Boa, 2001).

Concerns have been expressed about declining productivity and disappearance of certain species of macrofungi (Arnolds, 1995). Attention has focused on Europe and one of the identified issues was the impact of increased commercial picking in eastern Europe (Perini, 1998). Conservation of fungi is now an established topic of debate among mycologists. The debate has only just begun and it is important that it addresses the wider social and economic issues concerning harvesting if progress is to be made in halting the decline of any threatened edible species.

The following sections examine access to collecting sites, collectors and the impacts of harvesting. The chapter proceeds to an examination of published data on yields and production before attempting to provide practical advice on managing wild edible fungi for sustainable production.


Matsutake and exports to Japan

In Japan, Tricholoma matsutake is highly regarded and eating ceremonies are culturally important (Hall et al., 1998a). Originally collected from Japan’s forests, production declined steeply in the 1980s. The search for new sources identified American matsutake as an acceptable substitute (Tricholoma magnivelare) and it was quickly realized that substantial amounts could be harvested from the Pacific northwest of North America, where local use was minimal. The burgeoning trade with Japan coincided with a downturn in jobs in logging and timber extraction. Export businesses based on T. matsutake have also been established in Sichuan, China (Winkler, 2002; Yeh, 2000), Bhutan (Namgyel, 2000) and notably the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Exports of T. magnivelare and other closely related species occur from North Africa, Turkey and Mexico but details are sketchy. The amounts earned by these countries are small compared with Asia and North America. The prices paid by the Japanese vary considerably depending on the available supply each year and the quality of mushrooms when they arrive at market.

Matsutake is particularly valuable at an early stage of development and this requires careful searching in the upper humus layers of forests. Some collectors are not so careful: they rake the ground to uncover emerging fruit bodies, damaging the humus layer and affecting future harvests.

Matsutake is a mycorrhizal fungus and efforts have been made to “manage” natural ecosystems in the Republic of Korea and North America in an attempt to maximize production. Annual yields are still heavily influenced by available rainfall and ambient temperature at key times during the year.

(See Pilz and Molina (2002) for a general review of activities in North America.)


There are widely differing rules and policies on the collection of wild edible fungi (see also Box 8, Chapter 4). Scandinavia has open access: anyone can pick edible fungi as long as they do not harm property (Saastamoinen, 1999). This policy has been challenged by economic migration from neighbouring countries, no longer part of the former Soviet Union, and the availability of cheap labour for collecting wild edible fungi and wild berries. Similar changes in eastern Europe have created new opportunities for commercial harvesting and led to concern about unsustainable harvests and how to regulate collections.

Controlling collectors is not always easy. After the Second World War the Finnish Government encouraged greater harvesting of wild edible fungi and continues to promote the use of an underutilized resource (Härkönen and Järvinen, 1993; Salo, 1999). Open access to the countryside is a tenet of life in Sweden and Norway and controlling the collection of wild edible fungi (and other NWFP) would require a fundamental change in national policies.

“Overharvesting” is a commonly expressed concern, both for commercial and subsistence collections. The fear among forest managers and others is that future production of wild edible fungi will decrease. These are genuine concerns but there is a danger of taking draconian steps to regulate collectors without understanding the impact of harvesting, based on an incomplete knowledge of how much is collected and what collectors do.

The main impetus for regulating collectors is where commercial harvesting occurs. The introduction of regulatory schemes serves a number of different functions:

• it attempts (in theory) to limit the amount harvested;

• it ensures that collectors are aware of best practice (least harmful picking methods);

• it provides income.

In Italy each province regulates who has the right to collect truffles (Tuber spp.). Collectors have to pass a simple test that confirms they are aware of how and where to harvest. Around 30 000 licences (each costing around US$90) were issued in Emilia Romagna in 2001 (Zambonelli, 2002, personal communication: Truffles and collecting porcini in Italy).

In Winema National Park, Oregon, the sale of permits provides a substantial income, though this is highly variable (Table 8). In Bhutan, only token amounts are earned from the sale of permits (Namgyel, 2000).

Local communities also administer permit schemes to limit access to valuable sites. This system appears to be less successful at reducing conflicts between neighbouring communities and problems have occurred in regulating collection of truffles in Spain (de Román, 2002, personal communication: Trade in níscalos from North Spain to Catalonia and truffle production). This is a reminder of the need to look closely at the fairness of schemes that unfairly exclude people rather than encourage equitable use of natural resources.

Collectors in developing countries frequently collect for subsistence uses and the edible fungi represent an important food resource. In Malawi, forest officers are concerned that allowing people to collect wild edible fungi in protected forest areas will lead to greater extraction of wood products, particularly firewood (Lowore and Boa, 2001). There is no officially registered commercial collecting in Malawi and there have been no attempts to introduce a permit system.

The success of regulation schemes depends on who controls or owns forests. It is a relatively straightforward matter to regulate collections of Boletus edulis in commercial pine plantations of South Africa compared to the more complex problems posed by multiple use of native forests in Malawi. The pressure to regulate access to sites comes from various sources, and not all involved in forestry. A strong conservation lobby in the United States has sought to limit commercial harvests (McLain, Christensen and Shannon, 1998).

The expansion of commercial harvesting in Europe has resulted in the introduction of regulations in Poland (Lawrynowicz, 1997); former Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) (Ivancevic, 1997; Zaklina, 1998) and Romania (Pop, 1997). Information about the success of these schemes is sketchy and highlights the general difficulty of monitoring the conditions set by a permit. They often state how much can be collected in a fixed time but it is difficult to check this and collect penalties for transgressions.

Logging bans introduced in China (Winkler, 2002), the Philippines (Novellino, 1999), Canada (Tedder, Mitchell and Farran, 2002) and elsewhere have opened up new opportunities for collecting wild edible fungi and prompted concern about overharvesting. In Siberia, the opposite effect has happened: an increase in logging activities by foreign companies has made it more difficult for local people to collect wild edible fungi (de Beer and Zakharenkov, 1999).

Successful control depends on modifying regulations that do not work and maintaining a good dialogue with collectors (Pilz and Molina, 2002; see also Vance and Thomas, 1995). A pragmatic approach is needed to protect natural resources while allowing fair and equitable access to collectors.


Sale of permits for collecting matsutake in Winema National Forest, Oregon, 1997–2002







3 733

365 939

31 October

Biggest crop since 1989


1 246

138 338

7 November




122 350

24 October




(61 180)

(21 September)

Data incomplete. No information after this date.


not known

78 810

4 November



>1 200

>120 000

(4 October)

Interim data

Source: . Commercial permits are valid for picking in the Deschutes, Umpqua, Willamette in addition to Winema National Forest. Only Winema publishes comprehensive accounts of the matsutake season (the "mushroom chronicles").


A recent study in Malawi describes what happened when Mr Kenasi Affad went collecting bowa (wild edible fungi) near his home in Machinga. He was accompanied by two researchers working for the Miombo Edible Fungi Project (Lowore and Boa, 2001).

“We set off at 6.00am, later than the normal time for start-off at 5.00am. Kenasi is equipped with nothing but the clothes he is wearing and a bucket. He is barefoot with no protection from the rain, which today is persistent but not heavy. He cannot afford to let the rain put him off as bowa collection is a rainy season activity and he must be prepared to get wet. This year the rains are still frequent and heavy which is good for the kunglokwetiti 6 and chipatwe.

He sets off on a well trodden path towards the places he knows where he shall find bowa. He has observed the rain for the past day or two, he knows what species are ready at this time, he knows where he went last time and the condition of the crop when he was last there. He uses all this information to decide where to go. These days – the end of the season – few bowa are found near to the home unlike early in the season when they are found in abundance.

At this time of year the main species found and the one preferred by customers is kunglokwetiti. These are found in rocky places and Kenasi has to be sharp to spot them. They appear here and there underneath droopy tufts of grass. To pick them Kenasi scoops the bowa from its base using his finger and gently lifts it from the earth. He then breaks the bottom part of the stem off and throws it away. He blows some of the remaining earth away and gently places the bowa in the bucket. He continues.

Kenasi knows that certain bowa are found near certain tree species and that each year the same type of bowa appear in the same places. He also knows that some species need a few days of rain followed by sunshine before appearing whilst others need prolonged rain. Some take a few days to emerge from a small fruit body to a harvestable bowa, others take a few hours. This is important because then he knows when to go back to the same place to look again for new bowa.

Kenasi shows us the path to Naiswe where he will go tomorrow. It will take about 3-4 hours solid walking to reach the place – then he can spend one hour collecting the bowa and come back within another two hours. It is normal for a collection trip to last up to six hours. Kenasi aims to fill a whole bucket (about 15 plates) before setting off for home. He always goes alone but may meet other collectors whilst in the forest. Passing on information about the whereabouts of bowa is sometimes done but there is not much point because it is simply a matter of chance – one might have missed what others will find. Kenasi will go collecting bowa from between 2 to 5 times a week, depending on the availability of bowa and customers.

In the past the eucalyptus were not there but there was indigenous woodland. Bowa were found in abundance just close to the village. Another reason why we have to travel so far these days is the number of people collecting. People simply want money so more and more people think of selling bowa. I can always find bowa, if the weather has been right, but it can take a long time to reach the place and a long time to fill a whole bucket.”

This short account graphically describes the type of problems that a collector has to cope with. Kenasi knows where to look though he also knows that he has to be lucky to make a good collection. He comments on the loss of native woodland, where the fungi are most abundant, and he says that he must travel further to collect wild edible fungi because now there are more collectors.

Kenasi lives close to the forest and is part of a community that depends on the miombo woodland for food, income and shelter. Collecting bowa is an important source of income for him but it is only one way of earning a living from the miombo. Increasing numbers of people have taken the opportunity to collect, as Kenasi observes, because in the area where he lives there is a good selling point on a major road near to the forest.

Kenasi is unusual because the collectors in Malawi are mostly women, as is the case in the United Repubiblic of Tanzania (Härkönen, 2002) and Burundi (Buyck, 1994b). Table 9 describes collectors and their practices in a number of different countries. In China most collectors are men. Both men and women are involved in Mexico, where there is extensive harvesting each year. In Malawi the maximum time taken for collecting wild edible fungi and getting them to market is less than 24 hours. Any longer and the mushrooms for sale deteriorate and are worth much less. Women in Mzimba district in northern Malawi walk up to 10–15 km to get to the nearest market in Mzuzu. This limits collecting to a six hour collecting trip (there and back) from their homes (Lowore, Munthali and Boa, 2002). Distances from house to forest to selling points are shorter in Liwonde, near Zomba (Lowore and Boa, 2001) because of the proximity of a main road, a common selling point for wild edible fungi in several African countries (Plate 6).

In the Russian Federation and Ukraine whole families go on collecting trips and these appear to be more of a social event than collecting in order to sell. The distances travelled to the best sites can be substantial (Table 9). Immigrants collect wild edible fungi in the Klamath bioregion (northern California), many of southeast Asian origin (Richards and Creasy, 1996), attracted by job opportunities. They soon realize that competition is fierce and that incomes are not guaranteed. There have been some clashes between collectors and a general suspicion of people from southeast Asia, partly because of their poor English and a failure to observe regulations about where to pick. An account by an American picker of matsutake (Moore, 1996) provides a personal account of some of the antagonism that migrant labour may have to overcome – successfully overcome in this particular case.

Where money is involved in collecting wild edible fungi problems may arise, sometimes fuelled by exaggerated stories of potential earnings. Villages in Sichuan engaged in sustained battles to determine local rights to matsutake sites culminating in the sabotage of water supplies – they were without water for 45 days – and destruction of a key bridge. One village threatened not only to continue their disruption of life in the rival village but to “hide the pieces of the water pipes in the forest so that they could not be repaired” (Yeh, 2000). Such conflicts are unusual but when money becomes the main motive for collecting, management of collectors (and access to sites) needs careful adjudication.

Most collectors work alongside each other without any obvious problems. This does not mean that they necessarily cooperate in harvesting. In northern Spain, Lactarius deliciosus (níscalos) are sold to buyers from Catalonia, earning small but useful amounts of money. Even close friends refuse to reveal the location of favourite sites (de Román, 2002, personal communication: Trade in níscalos from North Spain to Catalonia and truffle production).

Commercial collection of wild fungi is a recent and small-scale activity in Scotland. Previously there was sporadic and minor picking for personal use. Landowners of the mostly private forest areas involved expressed a number of concerns about the influx of collectors (Dyke and Newton, 1999):

• unauthorized access by collectors to their land;

• lost revenue: the owners did not benefit from the collections on their land; they were also unable to earn money from organized fungal forays if the mushrooms had already been picked;

• damage to resource (wild edible fungi and the forest);

• conflicts with hunting (an important source of revenue for some landowners).

A total of 53 percent of collectors interviewed in Scotland did not know who owned the land they collected from. This study is a good example of how to collect information for developing management plans.

Collectors come from a wide range of social classes but the overall impression is that the majority are poor rural people who have traditionally lived close to the land and for whom wild edible fungi are a common and often unrecorded source of food (De Kesel, Codjia and Yorou, 2002).


Collecting wild fungi in the United Republic of Tanzania, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Bhutan, Finland, India and China



Who collects?

Mainly women and children though men bring them home if they happen upon them.


Travel by foot to sites. Open access. No special harvesting methods are used and official regulation of collectors is absent. People go out early to collect because of competition for edible fungi – hinting at the importance of selling in local markets.

Local traditions, choice of species

Elderly country people whose families had lived in the same place for several generations knew most about wild fungi. Many more species eaten in miombo areas than hills. Boletes eschewed by all: "even monkeys won’t eat them" (monkeys eat B. edulis in Malawi, however). People were well aware of poisonous varieties. Some groups of people will not eat any wild edible fungi. Educated people have forgotten almost everything about wild fungi. A similar diminishing of local tradition can be found in Malawi and Zimbabwe.



Who collects?

Families and individuals of both sexes. Photos of market places show only women selling.


Collectors walk 4–5 km a day, carrying around 4–5 kg to be sold in 5–7 hours. Collections transported up to 55 km; not clear if this is done by traders and/or collectors. Open access to sites. There are government regulations for picking seven major species.

Local traditions, choice of species

All types of macrofungi are collected. Long tradition of wild fungi use. Knowledge lost as people move from rural to urban areas; acceptance of wild fungi may dwindle especially as availability of cultivated species increases. Generally low frequency of poisoning cases.



Who collects?



5–6 km from boundaries of village or public transport stops. Some drive 40–60 km. No restrictions on access to sites, except nature reserves and national parks. Daily harvest could be from 15 to 100 kg per person in good years.

Local traditions, choice of species

Long history of collecting which has intensified with worsening economic situation. More people unable to afford imported food while food distribution within the Russian Federation has declined. Also, reduced employment opportunities in mining and forestry industries. 18–25 species are regularly collected; Lactarius deliciosus and Boletus edulis most important. Poisoning incidents not noted separately for this region but see Table 5 for reports from other parts of the Russian Federation.



Who collects?



On foot. Some camp out and begin collecting with torches very early in the morning because of competition. Local farmers do not allow farmers from other geogs to visit their area. The National Mushroom Centre has provided training on sustainable harvesting to 1 525 farmers. Concern expressed about damage to matsutake mycelium in soil because of harvesting methods.

Local traditions, choice of species

Little known about tradition of wild edible fungi but thought to be well established. Attention now focused on matsutake which had a low, local value until exports to Japan began.



Who collects?

No gender or age differences noted.


Collectors travel by public and private transport to sites. Open access except peoples’ back yards. Collection is actively encouraged following inventory which shows that only a small proportion of the wild edible fungus resource is used each year.

Local traditions, choice of species

Official advice provided on best fungi to collect, originally because of famine conditions and later seeking to encourage best use of wild food resources. Western Finland favours different species to Karelians in East, whose tradition of collecting and eating is much stronger.



Who collects?

Whole families involved but women more active.


Tribal people well acquainted with habitat and period of fruiting. No restrictions on access to collecting sites are mentioned.

Local traditions, choice of species

Several species are collected.



Who collects?

Men are more interested in collecting.


People do not go collecting on a regular basis because cultivated species are available throughout the year.

Local traditions, choice of species

Only mountain areas are visited; highest number recounted by one man was 33 edible species. People well aware of poisonous species.



Who collects?

Not stated.


Most concern about declines in matsutake production is for Degen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwest Yunnan. Has the highest extraction rates with clear decline in productivity. This is linked to bad harvesting techniques (raking). When sold by size encourages damaging harvest methods. No decline in productivity in Litong’s Jumba valley where sold by weight. Collectors of Cordyceps sinensis in Litang County are confined to legal grazing grounds or to forests where they have right of access. Outsiders must pay a fee to local community for collecting and clashes have occurred. Collection of other edible species is widespread (Rijsoort and Pikun, 2000).

Local traditions, choice of species

Long tradition of collecting edible and medicinal species. Matsutake not commonly collected before 1988.

Sources: UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA – Härkönen, 2002; MEXICO – Bandala, Montoya and Chapela, 1997; Montoya-Esquivel et al., 2001 and . RUSSIAN FEDERATION – Vladyshevskiy, Laletin and Vladyshevskiy, 2000; BHUTAN – Namgyel, 2000. FINLAND – Härkönen, 1998; Pekkarinen and Maliranta, 1978; INDIA (MADHYA PRADESH) – Harsh, Rai and Soni, 1999. CHINA (YUNNAN) – Härkönen, 2002; CHINA (SICHUAN and allied areas) – Winkler, 2002; Yeh, 2000.



The impact of harvesting wild edible fungi is frequently raised and a recent review provides a helpful summary of key issues that are explored in further detail below (Pilz and Molina, 2002).

Collecting wild edible fungi is often compared with picking fruit from a tree. Removing all the fruit does not affect future harvests unless the tree is damaged, but might have an impact on regeneration. This appears to be true for wild edible fungi but with some reservations: removing unopened fruiting bodies prevents dispersal of spores. In some areas of Italy regulations prevent the collection of first flush of some edible species (Zambonelli, 2002, personal communication: Truffles, and collecting porcini in Italy). (This makes practical sense too, since the early fruiting bodies are often damaged by insects.) Some collectors spread parts of the mushroom cap to encourage dispersal of spores.

A study in Switzerland showed that harvesting all the fruiting bodies of 15 species of macrofungi over a ten-year period had no significant effect on production (Egli, Ayer and Chatelain, 1990). If soils are compacted or leaf litter layers are disturbed, this can affect production. Indiscriminate digging for truffles, for example, is harmful. Crude raking to reveal young and immature matsutake damages the mycelium present in the upper layers of the soil. (The young fruiting bodies can be sold for a higher price.) This can be avoided by first identifying potential areas of matsutake, then using your hand to locate the tell-tale bumps while generally looking for signs of emerging fruit bodies (Arora, 1999).

Most species of edible fungi are picked without causing any damage since their fruiting bodies and edible parts are all above ground. The search for truffles (Tuber spp.) is often undertaken by trained dogs (Plate 4) (Hall et al., 1998a). The traditional use of pigs is now banned in Italy because they are difficult to control and sometimes eat the truffles. Truffle dogs are not used in China and random digging used to locate fruiting bodies will affect future production.

The Swiss study also showed the effect of trampling on the production of one chanterelle species. However, “normal” yields were restored once the trampling stopped (Egli, Ayer and Chatelain, 1990). Trampling is not thought to be a common source of damage. The number of collectors per unit area of forest is usually low and there is no evidence that trampling has affected yields in Malawi, for example. Commercial harvesting does increase the pressure on sites though wild edible fungi usually occur over a wide area and collectors keep apart in their searches.

Enhancing productivity

The decline in matsutake production in Japan in the 1980s prompted research on how to maximize yields in situ. Some success was achieved, although the increases in production failed to stem the overall decline. In the Republic of Korea methods included watering and vegetation control (Koo and Bilek, 1998). In Finland, soil surface treatments were examined for enhancement of the production of Gyromitra esculenta (Jalkanen and Jalkanen, 1978). These approaches are potentially costly and it is not known how successful they have been in increasing financial returns.

An alternative is to manage forests in a way that increases production of wild edible fungi. Attempts have been made in the Pacific northwest of North America to balance the production of wood and wild edible fungi (Weigand, 1998). The conclusions of a study of management of native stands of conifers in the United States and the production of wild edible fungi, including Tricholoma matsutake and chanterelles, are summarized below (Pilz and Molina, 2002):

• Clear-cut harvesting disrupts the production of most edible ectomycorrhizal fungi for ten or more years. It only recovers once the fungi have re-established on trees that are old enough to provide necessary nutrients.

• A thinned stand (one where trees are selectively removed to encourage growth of remaining trees and to remove weak specimens) introduces more rain and sunshine and more rapid wetting and drying of the forest floor. Heavy thinning at one site of Douglas fir reduced chanterelle fruiting by 90 percent in the following year. Less frequent thinning might help to maintain fungal productivity but the loss of wood production might outweigh the benefits.

• Compaction of soil from logging operations reduces productivity while the removal of large branches makes it easier and safer to find wild fungi without necessarily increasing base productivity.

The critical issue in enhancing production of wild edible fungi is their economic importance compared to the value of wood production and other forest uses. This is often poorly understood because accurate data are missing on the value of harvests.



Data from experimental studies in five countries are summarized in Table 10. Comparisons are difficult to make because some studies include all edible species while others measure the productivity of individual species. Sampling methods also vary, with plot size and total area monitored often too small to draw any major conclusions.

The results from Mexico suggest that up to 1 759 kg per ha of wild edible fungi can be produced in a good year. Yields from other countries are usually much lower, around 100 kg per ha and less. Natural fluctuations occur from year to year (Villarreal and Guzmán, 1985; Villarreal and Guzmán, 1986a; 1986b) and without historical data it is difficult to draw any useful conclusions from a single year’s production. There is a clear need to improve the quality and range of data on yields. Concerns have been expressed about “declining yields” yet there is also a lack of published data that allow a closer examination of the impact of commercial collecting in Portugal (Baptista-Ferreira, 1997) and the Russian Federation (Kovalenko, 1997), for example.

Table 11 summarizes national data on the amounts harvested of mostly commercial species. Total production in any given period will be higher. Data for developing countries are poorly represented and an attempt has been made to estimate the potential production for Tlaxcala state in Mexico, where wild edible fungi are widely collected. Tlaxcala has 83 000 ha of forest of which 65 000 ha are conifers and broadleaves. The remaining area has only broadleaf species. A potential yield of 10 kg per ha per year for all wild edible fungi in the 65 000 ha would provide a potential harvest of 650 tonnes. One of the main, if not principal, limiting factors in how much is harvested and sold is the time taken to collect and bring the fungi to a potential buyer.

The important question of how much of the total production is actually harvested in any one year remains largely unanswered, even for commercial species of wild edible fungi.


Yields of wild fungi from different countries





Russian Federation (central Siberia)

"Most popular (edible) mushrooms"


Vladyshevskiy, Laletin and Vladyshevskiy, 2000

Russian Federation (Arkhangelsk)

(a) Lactarius torminosus, (b) "red-headed mushroom" - ?Russula sp.

(a) 2–14(b) 9

Chibisov and Demidova, 1998


All edible mushrooms at Sotkamo (a) 1976 and (b) 1977

(a) 30(b) 85

Koistinen, 1978


Gyromitra esculenta (note fluctuations; 1973 and 1974 good; 1975 and 1976 poor; 1977 mediocre)


Jalkanen and Jalkanen, 1978


Average for all edible fungi at three sites, from 1978 to 81 *

124, 499,143

Kalamees and Silver, 1988


Average for (a) Suillus variegatus – one site and (b) Lactarius rufus – three sites *

(a) 41(b) 20; 24; 405

Kalamees and Silver, 1988


All edible species from two sites


Lopez, Cruz and Zamora-Martinez, 1992


All edible species, two sites (a) and (b) for 1983 and 1985 respectively

(a) 1 759; 234(b) 747; 180

Villarreal and Guzmán, 1985; 1986a


(a) Suillus granulatus; (b) Cantharellus cibarius (c) Amanita caesarea; (d) Boletus edulisFor 1983 and 1985 respectively

(a) 246; 75(b) 4; 8(c) nd; 38(d) 150; 9

Villarreal and Guzmán, 1985; 1986a

United States(Pacific northwest)

(a) Tricholoma magnivelare; (b) Morchella spp.; (c) Cantharellus spp.

(a) 3–15(b) 1–6(c) 2– 0

Pilz and Molina, 2002

Amounts are fresh weight or presumed to be so. Villarreal and Guzmán data based on extrapolation from two permanent plots of 100 m2 at each site.

* Insect damage reduces available harvest of non-L. rufus edible species by around 70 percent. nd – no data.


National production of wild edible fungi






"Resources" from 1981 to 1985

53 000

Malyi, 1987


Estimated annual export


de Geus, 1995


Chanterelles, boletes and morels "exported in a good year"

1 000

Wills and Lipsey, 1999


Production of boletes, Lactarius deliciosus and "others" (?wild edible fungi): 1998

308 000

Sun and Xu, 1999


Average annual export 1929–38

2 200

Paal, 1999


Yields in (a) 1988, (b) 1992 and (c) 1996

(a) 1 050(b) 670(c) 360

Härkönen, 1998


Production of (wild) edible fungi in 1958

3 500

Bukowski, 1960

Russian Federation(Arkhangelsk)

Collected annually by local people in 1930s

2 040

Chibisov and Demidova, 1998

United States(WA, OR, ID)

All wild edible fungi collected for trade: 1992

1 776

Schlosser and Blatner, 1995

Amounts are fresh weight or presumed to be so in the absence of other information. Production data from boreal and cold temperate countries, e.g. Lithuania, were seen too late to be included in this table (Lund, Pajari and Korhonen, 1998). See Chapter 4, section: National and international trade, for related information on the value of wild useful fungi (edible and medicinal).


Concerted efforts have been made to estimate productivity of commercial species of wild edible fungi in North America (Pilz and Molina, 2002). Similar approaches were used in Malawi to monitor production of edible species (Meke in Boa et al., 2000). A total of 250 50 m × 2 m plots were assessed at five native (miombo) woodland sites from 1999 to 2002 and initial results are available at Information collected included the number and weight of fruiting bodies and their proximity to trees (to examine mycorrhizal associations).

Fruiting bodies of macrofungi appear over a potentially large area and one recommendation for collecting yield data is to use long, narrow plots, as noted above. This also minimizes trampling damage by field staff. The frequency of observations depends on when particular species appear. Local collectors have proved a helpful source of information in Malawi.

More and better data are needed on yields and productivity to assist in drawing up management plans. Further advice on methods for assessing production of NWFP have been published by FAO (2001a).

Market surveys provide a guide to general productivity and are a simpler and less costly way of collecting data, provided that significant amounts are sold to the public.


The ultimate aim of managing wild edible fungi is to achieve sustainable production. The importance of good quality data has been emphasized and attention drawn to general issues of forest management and forest users. The first steps in formulating a management plan are to describe and then analyse the features of each production system. Table 12 suggests a general approach to adopt with key questions to ask.

Finland is a rare example of a country that has actively attempted to manage its wild edible fungi resources. They have actively supported wild edible fungi (together with wild berries) since the Second World War and their widely published experiences provide helpful pointers for other countries. Mexico has also shown a sustained interest in managing wild edible fungi. Coordinated efforts have been made by researchers and local and regional government to understand the importance of wild edible fungi and manage them for the benefit of people and the environment.

Much of the information required to begin the management planning process is already available in countries such as China (Mao, 1998) and Turkey (e.g. Gurer, 2002, personal communication: Unpublished data on wild edible fungi for Turkey). The former Soviet Union devoted much effort to investigating wild edible fungi (Paal, 1998), although perhaps more from the viewpoint of the fungi than their social and economic related features. This is a general weakness in many countries and an area where particular efforts are needed to improve knowledge.

Fair and equitable access to forests and forest resources is a critical issue. If people believe they are unfairly excluded they may continue to collect but not observe regulations or pay permits or taxes. People routinely avoid paying official taxes in Italy when harvesting Boletus edulis and truffles (Hall et al., 1998b). Exclusion can also turn to resentment. In northwest Spain in 2001, a truffle site was crudely raked overnight and “spoiled” for collection because a previous resident of an area was no longer allowed to obtain a collector’s permit for his former village (de Román, 2002, personal communication: Trade in níscalos from North Spain to Catalonia and truffle production).

The Scottish Wild Mushroom Code7 provides the following guidelines to collectors of edible and non-edible species:

• only pick what you will use; wildlife need mushrooms too;

• do not pick until the cap has opened out, and leave those that are past their best;

• take care not to damage the main part of the mushroom below the surface and not to damage its surroundings;

• scatter trimmings discreetly in the same area the mushroom came from;

• only pick what you know and take a field guide to identify mushrooms where you find them; some mushrooms are poisonous and rare ones should not be picked;

• please observe special conditions that may apply to nature reserves.

Codes of practice are useful but again must be realistic if they are to be adopted.

The loss of native forests reduces the potential production of wild edible fungi. Planting exotic trees opens up new possibilities, some of which have already been exploited. Boletus edulis has been introduced to South Africa and a small export trade has been established (Pott, 2002, personal communication: Export of Boletus edulis from South Africa). This fungus is not eaten locally. A eucalypt species from Australia, planted in Madagascar, has formed mycorrhizal associations with a “native” edible Russula (Buyck, 2001). Similar interactions involving other wild edible fungi have been observed in West Africa (Ducousso, Ba and Thoen, 2002).

Planting exotic species does not, therefore, necessarily impoverish the local mycota (Ryvarden, Pierce and Masuka, 1994) and may significantly increase opportunities for collecting WEF, as has happened with the planting of Pinus nigra in northwest Spain and the commercial markets for Lactarius deliciosus that have developed over the last thirty years (de Román, 2002, personal communication: Trade in níscalos from North Spain to Catalonia and truffle production). New Zealand has seized the opportunity to introduce edible mycorrhizal fungi, and the lack of competing native species of fungi is seen as a positive opportunity in support of commercialization (Hall and Wang, 2002).


Preparing management guidelines for wild edible fungi



Ownership of forests

Public or private? State/region controlled or under joint management with rural people? As the number of stakeholders increases so the task of resolving who has user rights and how these are moderated becomes more complex. Private owners may be unaware of the value of WEF and this should be carefully explained so that they have realistic expectations about financial returns from potential commercial operations.

Relative importance of wild edible fungi

Commercial or personal? Firstl consider the value of WEF by themselves and then compare this with other forest products and services. Review all WEF species together for preliminary assessments and later look more carefully at the value of different types (which may vary significantly). Personal collections include subsistence and recreational uses (e.g. amateur mycologists, field biologists).

Good and reliable data on production and amounts harvested are essential for effective planning. If these data do not exist or are patchy, consult collectors to assess patterns of previous use and consider an inventory based on a system of sample plots.

Collectors and their practices

People profiles and harvesting methods. Who are the collectors: are they local or hired labour brought in from other places? Examine the harvesting practices and assess their impact on WEF resources and the forest and trees. Review the need to change practices and how collectors could be encouraged to use less harmful methods. Look carefully at the other features of collector livelihoods so that WEF can be put in wider contexts.

Legislation and regulations

Collecting permits and right of access. How are collections of WEF regulated and do the current laws support sustainable use? The key principle is fair and equitable access to forest resources which maintains a healthy balance between use of WEF and other forest uses. Examine current legislation to see whether it is enforceable and reflects current needs of users. The guiding principal is pragmatism: regulations that work.

Production and financial value

Volume and value. Assess this on a national scale since data will be used to develop government policies. Weak data lead to weak policies and management of WEF has been hampered by wrong perceptions and knowledge of collecting practices and their importance, particularly to rural communities.


Practical inventory: experiences from Malawi

An extensive review of inventory studies for NWFP has revealed the poor quality data that often emerge at the end of studies, and highlighted the general paucity of information on productivity (FAO 2001a). This is a critical issue if foresters are to understand the impact of harvesting practices on wild edible fungi and to resolve the competing claims of commercial interests and other groups that have an instinctive suspicion of collectors (which often includes the foresters themselves).

In Malawi, enumerators were hired in to collect data from four major sites. There were few major problems apart from the failure of data collection at one site which was resolved the next year when a local non-governmental organization (NGO) helped. It took at least one season for all concerned to become familiar with protocols and techniques. The rains were poor in the second and third year and productivity consequently low. A good knowledge of local and scientific names of wild edible fungi was a major benefit in interpreting the data.

The cost of travelling to the four sites was high; fuel is expensive in Malawi and budgets should be calculated before finalizing the location of plots. There may be little advantage in travelling afar unless these sites are significantly different from those closer at hand. A computer data entry system was created at the very beginning and was invaluable in allowing yield data to be entered swiftly and accurately. It soon became clear if wrong data had been entered or if there were unexplained gaps. The supervisors used this information to suggest improvements in how enumerators collected data and reported the results.

Analysis of the data and drawing conclusions have proved more difficult to achieve, partly because the people involved in the work worked far apart and data collection was continued up to the end of the project. It would have been better, in retrospect, to stop data collection earlier and to give a longer period of time (six months) for data analysis.

More could be done to provide practical advice on how to take inventories of wild edible fungi. There is a lot of useful information available on NWFP (FAO, 2001a), but there is as yet no simple, practical guide that would encourage more people to measure productivity and show them how to perform simple analyses of the data.



The collection and cultivation of Tuber spp. is of commercial importance. Truffle photographs are from Urbino, Marche in Italy, and are of Tuber aestivum unless otherwise stated. All photos by Eric Boa.

4.1 Luna uncovers the truffles and awaits a reward. Dogs are easier to handle and cause less damage than pigs

4.2 Pierluigi displays the truffles after digging them up with the long-handled tool. It has a curved blade at the end.

4.3 The clearing is a truffle "orchard", tartufaia (It.) or truffière (Fr.). Trees are infected artificially with the fungus.

4.4 Marking the test taken by truffle collectors in Bologna to confirm they know how and where to harvest.

4.5 Tuber aestivum, cut open to show distinctive flesh.

4.6 The suppressed vegetation (brulée), suggests Tuber aestivum is present.

4.7 Tuber excavatum, largely worthless. Not all truffles are equally prized. Present at the same site as T. aestivum


4.8 Some truffle collectors raise and train their own dogs. Elvisio also sells to other collectors.

4.9 Tuber magnatum for sale as a luxury food, costing around US$35 per jar.



These valuable and sought after wild fungi grow around the world yet are not eaten in countries such as Malawi. The trade is dominated by Italians, both at home (factories) and overseas (as traders). Huge volumes are imported from China, eastern Europe and southern Africa. Known in Italian as porcini, they are dried and sold preserved, sometimes in mixtures with other Boletus species and other cultivated mushrooms. All photographs from Borgo Val de Toro, Parma, Italy, unless stated otherwise, and taken by Eric Boa.

5.1 B. edulis: produced in abundance yet not eaten or collected. Pine plantation, Zomba plateau, Malawi.

5.2 Fresh porcini being prepared for cooking and preservation in brine, prior to being sold.

5.3 Porcini cooked and ready for bottling..

5.4 Preparing jars of porcini and other mushrooms.

5.5 A range of mushroom products, including chanterelles and paddy straw.

5.6 Dried and preserved porcini on sale.

5.7 Permits are required to collect wild fungi in this valley. Residents and property owners pay less compared to "outsiders".

5.8 Dried porcini from several countries are carefully graded.

5.9 Porcini and other mushrooms in brine, as imported from overseas.

5.10 Other species of Boletus are sometimes mixed with porcini and sold.

5.11 Pholiota nameko from China, also sold in mixtures with porcini.

5.12 Young specimens of porcini in brine.

6 Cantharellus species.

7 Available at:

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