It was 25 years ago that the Mushroom Development Foundation (MDF) started its mission to synthesis health and nutrition with sustainable livelihood for indigenous population through mushroom cultivation. The mission focuses on livelihood, safe and improved production techniques, women empowerment, fair price sharing for farmers, employment, and safe and nutritious mushrooms for all.
In January 2018, the MDF associated with the Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission Society (ASRLMS) for an innovative and sustainable livelihood generation project, wherein, within one year, 200 indigenous women Self-Help Group members together developed a mushroom value chain and attained an annual production capacity of 250 metric tones of mushroom. Within the first three months of commercial production, the total production of 7,000 kgs., with a cumulative income of approximately Rs. 12 lakhs, developing about 85 channels was achieved.
The unique project started with a survey of the suitable areas and people. The Dimoria and Chandrapur blocks were selected as project locations, and 200 women SHG members were selected through a socio-economic survey and eligibility analysis. Sensitization meetings led to the formation of eight clusters. Each cluster, comprising of 25 members each, were organized as Mushroom Demonstration Units (MDU); Common Processing Units (CPU) and Individual Production Units (IPU) formed the backward linkage of the value chain.
The cluster-wise capacity building and infrastructure development activities began on March 3, 2018, which included trainings on cultivation, post-harvesting, mushroom processing, inventory and logistics management, entrepreneurship and institution building, construction of mushroom growing house, bag making and packing houses, paddy straw storing unit, cutting, boiling and soaking units and vermicomposting unit – all constructed using low-cost materials and equipment such as used flex, bamboo, green shade net, mobile straw cutting machine and spraying machine.
For better market knowledge, household surveys were conducted in different parts of the city to create awareness about mushrooms with the brand positioning as ‘Pusti Avijan’. On April 24, 2018.
The MDUs were inaugurated by M.G.V.K Bhanu, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Assam and Nandita Hazarika, State Mission Director, ASRLMS, at the Marangabari Village in Dimoria Block. All 200 farmers became fully engaged by November, 2018. The MDUs were trained on mushroom processing, food items and rice based dishes to cater to a larger market and enable diversification for sustainability. Thus, the ‘Pusti Avijan’ brand of mushroom products was launched and distributed to 85 retail outlets and institutions around the city and even overseas to Hong Kong. Participations in food festivals, trade fairs, etc., also raised the popularity and sales.
At the SARAS FAIR 2018, hundreds thronged to the Pusti Avijan stall, seeking fresh and processed mushrooms and within just ten days, sales crossed Rs. 1.03 lakhs. A dedicated outlet at FC Road, Latasil, to demonstrate and sell all ‘Pusti Avijan’ products, along with several mobile kiosks will be launched during the second week of April, 2019.
MDF’s ‘Mushroom Army’ needs support to scale up national and international markets with local mushrooms. The local markets are realizing the nutritional and economic benefits of mushroom consumption. A new model is being developed that ensures optimum revenue for farmers by transforming farmer clusters into collective business entities and the creation of a marketing company, open for investments, and profit sharing with the farmers, participating professionals and the public at large. To induce a paradigm shift, MDF plans to introduce local varieties of rice blended with mushrooms to benefit a larger section of farmers across the region. MDF is partnering with various institutions, organizations and individuals to join hands in this mushroom-rice revolution in the region.