For Ma Junxiao (pictured below), an ethnic Hui Muslim farmer from remote western China, the daily climb up sheer mountain slopes to look for a tiny fungus is vital to his family's subsistence.
Each spring, Ma travels more than 600 kilometres (370 miles) by road from his impoverished village in Gansu to a jumbled knot of nameless peaks in neighbouring Qinghai province.
Left: Cordyceps are laid out for drying inside a cordyceps trader's house. Right: Cordyceps.
Despite the slower economy and softer prices, some high-quality cordyceps in Shenzhen still retails for around $72 per gram, or $2,016 per ounce, surpassing the price of gold, which is around $1,340 per ounce.
Much is at stake for cordyceps barons like Ma Jingguang, who posted photos of himself on social media as he departed Qinghai on a private jet, enjoying a cigar after filming an ad for his company.
Even a local driver in Ma's entourage in Qinghai owns an Audi convertible.
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For those who actually gather the fungus, like 51-year-old cordyceps picker Zhi Bula, every piece he finds is crucial to getting by.
Zhi can earn up to 20,000 yuan ($2,888) each season, easily eclipsing his family's annual farm income of 10,000 yuan.
"I've a son who is a second-year student at Nanjing University," he said. "The cordyceps earnings help."
Photo editing by Marika Kochiashvili, Reporting by Ryan Woo, Text Editing by Gerry Doyle