Mushroom: Sprouting Sustainability in Adversity

By Ravi Shankar Behera, Kari Jackson and Ranjit K. Sahu

Increased demand for food production has been leading to loss of wild habitats. Similarly, over harvesting of forest products has been having a detrimental effect on the environment. Mushrooms, traditionally gathered from the wild are usually seasonal.  A major source of nutrition and income for rural communities across the world, many species are endemic to the areas where they occur. Edible mushrooms include fungal species that are either harvested from the wild or cultivated. There has been a gradual approval and demand for mushrooms as food, among both rural and urban dwellers owing to changes in perception about their nutrition and changing tastes.

In Odisha, several types of wild mushrooms are known to the natives who collect it from the forests and other locations and either sell it in the local markets or consume it (Photos 1A-D). Some of these grow under very specific conditions and are associated with local fauna.  The cutting down of trees  for  both commercial purpose as well as development initiatives has had an indirect  effect in terms of loss of gathering areas for rural communities. With decreasing forest areas in order to minimize the human interference with forest ecosystems, it becomes important to find alternative means to obtain a replacement for wild mushrooms. Unlike other agroforestry products however, mushrooms require little space and can be easily cultivated under rural conditions using locally available materials. The other risk factor that comes with mushroom gathering and consumption is the proper identification of edible types. Though not very frequent, food poisoning due to consumption of misidentified poisonous mushrooms is known in areas where they are collected. Locally cultivating mushrooms alleviates this problem while providing a year round sustainable means of nutrition and income to rural communities.

Mushroom cultivation has been a new avenue for generating income as well providing a source of nutrition in Odisha. NGOs, State Livelihood Missions and Government line departments are promoting mushroom cultivation especially among landless women. Skill trainings are imparted to rural women by trained development workers and Government staff. The Government/NGOs also support with quality Spawn at subsidized costs. These livelihoods initiatives have been instrumental in bringing about an awareness of the economic and nutritional benefits of mushrooms to SHGs as well as rural communities. Usually the white cultivated mushroom, Agaricus bisporus is grown on composted cereal straw and animal manure.

There is an increased interest among rural women for undergoing training in mushroom cultivation as it can be easily undertaken in their own houses. Mushroom cultivation is done in polythene bags, which are hung from the roofs. Spawn is injected in the substratum in the bag. Sprinkling of water at regular intervals and maintaining a constant air flow are crucial for the growth of the mushrooms. Mushrooms take 3 months for production. There is a big demand for mushrooms in the local haat/shanties. Mushrooms are sold between INR 200-300 per kg. The average profit from the sale of mushrooms is INR 2000 during one season per family. Mushrooms are low in calories, high in fiber, and contain many important vitamins and minerals. Some also have medicinal properties such as complex carbohydrates that strengthen the immune system. Mushrooms are consumed in the households and these contribute towards household nutritional security especially of women and children. The family also saves on its purchase from the open market.

(1A-E)Wild mushrooms being sold at a local market in South Western Odisha. Wild mushrooms, (A, B) (Photo Credits, Sudarshan Sahu). (C) A woman carries a packet of substrate fro cultivation of mushrooms in western Odisha (Photo Credit, Ravi Shankar Behera). (D) Oyster mushrooms in polytene bags (Courtesy Kari Jackson).

For small and marginal holder farmers, mushrooms can be cultivated in seed beds by seeding with spawn, maintaining optimal temperature, moisture, hygiene and other conditions for mycelium growth and fruiting, adding water to the substrate to raise the moisture content, harvesting and eating. Sometimes the produce is processed and, packaged before sale.

In the city of Bamenda in Cameroon a community is now resorting to mushroom cultivation. A local NGO, SURUDEV has been active in addressing these issues. One important issue persistent in the region is of nutrition as well as quick turnover of products for consumption by the masses using local resources at time of growing human wildlife conflicts. Recognition of mushrooms as a means for increasing livelihood among communities was undertaken by establishing a place for preparation of the inoculum. The training and knowledge to grow mushrooms using locally available inexpensive resources is leading to employment of women.

Mushrooms available from such cultivation also decrease the trend of venturing into the forest to pick mushrooms by locals, helping conserve the fungal diversity. Presently the organization has a turnover of 4 kilos of oyster mushrooms on an average per day for income purpose. Raw materials include locally procured materials, Saw dust, waste plastic containers, papers, slaked lime, waste cheese or mayonnaise (butter bottles), Water, corn flour, rice husk etc. Locally cultivated species include Termitomyces,   Pleurotus,   Agaricus, Flammulina and Auricularia with Pleurotus ostreatus being cultivated in  SURUDEV.

 2(A-F) The key generic steps in mushroom production includes a cycle that takes between one to three months from start to finish depending on species include identifying and cleaning a dedicated room or building in which temperature, moisture and sanitary conditions can be controlled to grow mushrooms in choosing a growing medium and storing the raw ingredients in a clean place under cover and protected from rain. Cultivation, harvesting and drying before packing of mushrooms in a farm in Bamenda, Cameroon (Photo credits, Kari Jackson).

Several women in Bamenda have resorted to mushroom cultivation. This helps promotes conservation as  women  cultivate it locally  on a larger scale and more income is generated.  No more frequent forest visits by women also protects the forest environment. Loveline Beri is one of those who have been collecting mushroom from the Njising forest.  Now she makes at least 40,000 francs a month cultivating mushrooms. This has reduced her dependence on forest while providing a means of livelihood. Similarly, Cybthis a young woman in the Bamenda highlands, now helps young girls grow mushrooms in their backyards. This is saving a lot of teenagers from venturing into forests for mushroom harvesting. Mushroom harvesting in the forest causes collateral damage as harvesters tend to collect other non-timber forest products unintentionally or intuitively. Importantly minimizing the harvest of mushrooms from forests also helps to retain the species in the forests for their ecological role.

The cultivation model of Cameroon may perhaps be a suitable one for Southwestern Odisha where development activities are being implemented. Mushroom cultivation maybe a mitigation for women migration caused by lessened interest in traditional agriculture owing to climate change and  entry of the corporate sector into agro-forestry operations.

About the Author:

Dr. Ranjit K. Sahu is a Research professional and freelance writer with over a decade of experience in biomedical research , currently located in Virginia, USA. His interests include education, environment, sustainability and health care in the underprivileged regions of the world.

Ravi Shankar Behera is a free lance consultant in the development sector and affiliated to several organizations, currently based in New Delhi.

Kari Jackson is a development professional with a decade old experience in concept validation, development and follows up of projects related to environmental protection, climate change and conservation of Biodiversity.  He holds a master’s degree in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from the University of Bamenda in Cameroon.  He is the founder and executive Director of SURUDEV.

One Comment

  1. Thanks, it is quite informative

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