This memo outlines a simple, cost-effective means to stop many of the forest fires that plague North Thailand. Forest fires are started for many reasons and many are accidental. Many forest fires are set intentionally, however, to clear leaf litter and make it easier to collect wild mushrooms. These fires can be stopped through the implementation of wild mushroom marketing regulations that will remove the incentive to burn but will ensure that the poor continue to profit from picking them.
When picked only for local consumption, few fires were set; now that wild mushrooms command a high price in global markets, the incentive to light fires is irresistible. To eliminate the incentive to burn, the local and global markets must be separated by regulations.
To preserve the local wild mushroom market and local access to wild mushrooms, the regulations shall permit their unregulated sale and purchase within the region of the North where they are native.
To dissuade fire starters and to provide pickers with higher prices, the sale and purchase of wild mushrooms outside of the North must be regulated. The regulation system shall work as follows:
- Each year the government shall set a wild mushroom quota prior to the beginning of the picking season.
- Buyers shall bid to purchase a portion of the quota when picked.
- At the close of bidding, buyers will be awarded shares of the quota according to the price they bid until the quota is exhausted, at which point no further purchases will be permitted.
- When the season begins, pickers shall bring the wild mushrooms that they wish to sell at the quota price to a certification location.
- Certification shall require (1) recording the seller’s national identification number and (2) verification that there has been no fire activity in the area from which the seller comes.
- Sellers with certified mushrooms shall be permitted to present them to buyers with quotas. If the buyer approves the quality of seller’s product and completes the purchase, the certification number shall be reported to government authorities along with the weight, which shall be deducted from the buyer’s quota.
The intended impact
The free and open sale of wild mushrooms within the North will result in a large and stable supply of mushrooms of all qualities. This will result in low prices and reduce incentives to start fires since any further increase in supply will only depress prices.
The certification system will raise prices dramatically for high quality mushrooms while at the same time establishing a powerful market disincentive to light fires. Those who wish to sell into the certified market will have strong incentives to police the forests themselves to stop forest fires as fires in their areas will automatically disqualify them from selling in the high value, regulated market.
The combined effect is intended both to reduce the incidence of forest fires and smoke and to maintain the earnings of the poor who pick wild mushrooms.