What the heck was this commodity?

I was watching some news magazine programme on (UK terrestrial) TV late last night and there was a feature about some highly-prized natural commodity that is dug out of the ground by kids somewhere - apparently for use in dietary supplements or some such.

The details I can remember:…

  • it was a sort of semi-arid, hilly place with very low-growing scrubby vegetation, similar sort of terrain to what I’ve seen on some news reports about Afghanistan.
    -The commodity looked like a cylindrical root, about two inches long and less than half an inch in diameter, topped by a tapering stalk.
    -The reporter was blathering on about it being a caterpillar that gets infected by a fungus, then burrows into the ground and turns into the commodity, but he sounded really very poorly-informed (he said it was a caterpillar of the species Lepidopterus, which sort of sounds like it should make sense, but in fact doesn’t - Lepidoptera is the taxonomic order that includes all butterflies and moths)
  • kids were digging up these roots/tubers/whatever and selling them to a dealer for a dollar each
  • there was a brief clip of one of the objects having it’s outer bark removed and it did (sort of) have a segmented, caterpillar-like appearance.

What was it they were talking about? I should have just paid attention, but I was doing something else at the time.

I googled “caterpillar fungus” and came up with…

caterpillar fungus

That’s the feller! - Wow… it actually is a caterpillar+fungus thing - sounds like the reporter just got the name wrong then.

It was Nepal.
I can’t remember what the local name for the stuff was (it was **Otto’s ** fungus alright) and the gist of the story was that the trade in it is worth about 3million a year and is almost totally under the control of the Maoists.

At government bases they were trying to impose a tax of $275 per KILO of the stuff, so it must be very valuable. The Maoists, of course, smuggle the stuff out to avoid the taxes.