Mushroom cultivation for empowerment of small and marginal farmers
Supplemental income empowers small and marginal farmers by ensuring financial stability. Dr. Reddy’s Foundation’s mushroom cultivation initiative, which was started primarily to support income generation among migrant labourers, has proved beneficial in generating supplemental income. This blog is a brief about the challenges faced in implementation, solutions, results thus far and way forward.
COVID induced lockdowns made lives of many segments of people precarious. We have seen a surge in migrant labourers returning to the villages. Many of these labourers, who work for a daily wage, were clueless about livelihood options that would help them cater to basic necessities. To help them in building a stable income source, our agriculture program teams in Bihar started exploring for low investment occupations that would require minimum training and yield quick returns.
After meeting various stakeholders and thorough brainstorming, mushroom cultivation seemed a more suitable option. It not only requires less capital investment and minimum training but can also be done indoors, making it suitable for migrant labourers who were largely landless/marginal farmers. When looked with a gender lens, its easier even for women from conservative families to cultivate mushrooms indoors. Also we recognized other tangential benefits like nutritional content of mushrooms that can help reduce malnutrition among rural households and decided to test implement the initiative.
We started a pilot project in Samastipur district of Bihar. Experts and research evidence suggested cultivation of Oyster Mushrooms over Button Mushrooms and Milky Mushrooms (other popular mushroom varieties in the region) as they can be cultivated throughout the year under normal temperatures. Also, the cultivation in Oyster Mushrooms needed simple and easily adoptable production techniques giving it an edge over other varieties.
Ten beneficiaries were identified from four villages and were given training along with investment for initial production cycle. In addition to training and investment, quality inputs and market-linkages will play a vital role in generating good outcomes from the cultivation. As quality of spawn is directly related to quality of output in mushroom cultivation, we partnered with high quality spawn suppliers across the state and ensured timely supply of good quality spawn. After a 45 day production cycle, the first batch of harvest was sold for a profit of Rs. 5440 per 100 square feet.
“Though everyday activities like spraying water and plucking were carried-out by women, less than 25% of participants in training sessions were women”.
Also, the paddy straw used in cultivation process can be used as livestock feed, after the harvest, which saves around Rs 500 of input cost to cattle farmers. So for the next phase, we focused on identifying beneficiaries who had livestock and encouraged women to take part in subsequent training. A total of 225 beneficiaries were identified and were provided with a sum of Rs.1000 towards production costs. We also invested in their capacity building. An average net income of Rs.20, 000 per year per beneficiary (7 production cycles) is expected.
“I am happy that mushroom farming requires low capital and yield profits. It assures Rs.2300 of extra income every month and I use that to pay for my children’s education”. – Dileep Kumar Singh
Despite seeing good success, implementation at scale would require overcoming challenges like inconsistent supply of quality spawn, shortage of capital investment, lack of storage facilities, consumer awareness and market linkages. We have already started few interventions directed towards addressing these challenges. To improve awareness, we created posters containing nutrient information and recipies of Oyster Mushrooms. We also guided farmers to start mushroom snack stalls. These interventions helped in sale of Oyster Mushrooms in communities that were otherwise accustomed to consuming Button Mushrooms. To increase the market in urban areas, we guided farmers to associate with milk delivery men to sell 100-200 grams packets with around 5% profit margin per sale.
- To improve market linkages, we identified Agri-entrepreneurs who can buy 500 kilos of dry mushrooms and market them.
- To enhance the shelf life, we also arranged a Mushroom Dryer to extend the shelf life of mushrooms.
- Value addition to mushrooms through industrial food processing offers great opportunities to improve the livelihoods of the peripheral rural and peri-urban people. Few reputed private organizations are in talks to initiate a post-harvest processing plant that can make powder, cookies and other products from mushrooms.
- Mushroom farming has huge export prospects. We are trying to utilize the Nepal and North-east oyster mushroom market. A team has already been sent to Nepal to analyze the prospects.
- Considering the increased interest in mushroom production, we have set a target of impacting at least 3, 500 farmers by March, 2023.
“We eat it thrice a week. It’s so delicious and help maintaining good health. It also generates regular income of Rs.2000 every month”. – Mamata Kumari
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