Mushroom – the Delectable Fungi that Empowers
One of the many farm visits that Zizira explorers made led them to a lady farmer who has fought odds to become a successful entrepreneurial woman mushroom farmer. Her story in an inspiring one. Want to know more? Read on.
We all know that any nation’s wealth lies in its resources, especially human resources. The entrepreneurial enterprise of a nation’s men and women ensures resultant development, multiplying wealth. Half of the earth’s people are women. Yet, sadly, equal opportunity eludes women everywhere, notwithstanding efforts to uplift them. Ingrained patriarchal mindsets overwhelm societies, poverty and illiteracy seems to cut short women’s aspirations. The question then is – what more can a woman do to be empowered?
Here is a story of an intrepid woman from Nongpoh, Ri-Bhoi District, Meghalaya, who escaped to empowerment through mushroom cultivation.
Struggles Pushed her Towards New Opportunities
Jacinta Lyngdoh is the middle of eleven living siblings. Five others died – four elder and one younger to her. She had to discontinue school after fifth grade, to work to support the family. Then in 2008 she started ginger cultivation, doing reasonably well. Unfortunately, some miscreants, burnt their seed rhizomes one night, leaving the family devastated. With no money to buy fresh planting material with, Jacinta somehow managed to salvage a few unburnt pieces and planted them. Against all odds she got a reasonably good harvest. The same year she ventured into piggery, on her own, with just one pig. This turned out successful too. It struck her that she could go for a full-scale piggery unit, combined with poultry and organic farming. She underwent a short course at the government pig and poultry farm and training centre at KyrdemKulai, 20 Km southwest of Nongpoh and soon becoming so adept that she started training other farmers!
Moment of Change: the Mushroom Route to Empowerment
Her eureka moment came one day in January 2015. During a bus journey to Shillong she struck up conversation with a co-passenger from Assam who told her about mushroom farming, its relative ease of cultivation and higher returns. When he spoke of his mind-boggling profits in two years, her entrepreneurial spirit went on an overdrive!
Thus, learning basics of mushroom farming from him, she started with the four packets of spawns that he bought for her,costing a few hundred rupees. Within 25 days she harvested about 8 kgs, profiting around ₹1000. Each kilogram of mushrooms presently retails for ₹260. The profit from mushrooms is easily four times the investment she says, but it is laborious work.
More Training on Mushroom
Jacinta’s insatiable thirst for more knowledge led her to a two-week training in Mushroom cultivation in ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) at Umiam. She hungrily absorbed everything they taught and her proficiency enhanced admirably. She now imparts training to interested persons, helping them set up their own mushroom cultivating units. In just about a year she has trained 24 persons! And now she has also started another venture, candle making. Smart diversification!
Jacinta says “mushroom cultivation isn’t that complicated – good spawn, hygienically clean medium (straw), a plastic bag and a cool, dark and moist room are basic requirements. What it needs is hard work and diligence”
How to Grow Mushrooms?
Jacinta was generous enough to share her knowledge.
- Cut Fresh, clean paddy straw to about 3-5 cm lengths.
- Sterilize by boiling in clean water for an hour.
- Thoroughly drain off excess water so straw stays just moist. Allow to cool.
- Compress them in five cms thick layers into plastic bags. Spread seeds at every layer, so that they are sandwiched between two layers. A 30-cm plastic bag might take about four layers.
- Tightly tie the bag. Punch holes with a stick on the sides, just above the seeds, at every layer.
- Suspend bag freely with rope in a cool, dark and humid room.
Within 25-30 days the first batch of mushrooms (depending on the species) is ready for harvest.
Temperature and wind control are important to prevent dehydration. Hence water needs to be sprinkled periodically once the spores flush. Temperature of about 20-25°C, humidity 85% with adequate ventilation is ideal.
Asked about poisonous mushrooms, as stories abound of many who ate and fell ill, or even died, Jacinta’s advice was,
Do not gather from the wild unless you are highly skilled in identifying the edible kind. And, more importantly, know which ones to avoid. Mushrooms easily absorb poisons many wild creatures, like, snakes and scorpions, leave on their trails. It’s safest to buy from certified sources, or grow your own.”
Jacinta is able to sell all the mushroom she cultivates, either in the Iewduh market (the main marketplace for wholesalers and retailers in Shillong) or directly to a few customers. She says that the demand is more than she can meet! Dried oyster mushrooms are the most sought after.
The Nutritive Value of Mushrooms
Jacinta says mushrooms have excellent nutritive value: a great source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, folic acid, iron and antioxidants. Selenium, which prevents inflammation and decreases tumour growth, is present in mushrooms, as well as vitamin D, known to inhibit cancer cell growth. Mushrooms have high fibre and low calories, good for weight-watchers and the obese. They improve sugar levels, a boon for diabetics.Their high potassium and low sodium balance decrease the risk of high blood pressure, helping the heart.
Cooking with Mushrooms
Fresh or dried, the versatile flavours of mushrooms blend well with many cuisines, adding nutrition and variety. It can be added to dishes like curries, soups, salads, omelettes etc. Mushroom stuffed omelette and cream of mushroom soup are a favourite of many.
Jacinta adds it to her meats and vegetables, or cooks it by itself. Want great tasting food with great overall health, healthy complexion and hair, and boundless energy? Simply add organically grown mushrooms to your diet. Buy them or grow your own. It’s that easy!
The Zizira Push
We at Zizira are on a constant quest to open markets for our farmer friends of this region. We are wondering – are there farmers in Meghalaya looking for bigger opportunities in Mushrooms? If yes, how do we help? These are questions the team will now seek answers for.
Want to know more about mushrooms from Meghalaya? Interested in buying dried mushrooms? Contact us.
You know something more about mushrooms grown in Northeast India? Or a recipe? We would love to hear from you – add them as comments.
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