Bihar: Farmers in Gaya see mushrooming profits
Gaya is the largest producer of mushrooms in Bihar. Gaya’s mushrooms come under the ‘one district one product’. A non profit, SumArth/Microx Foundation, has hand held more than 2,000 farmers right from cultivation of the mushrooms to marketing.
Rakesh Kumar owns 2.5 hectares of land left to him by his father in Dhanchhuha village in Gaya district of Bihar. For a long time the 27-year-old farmer struggled to make ends meet with the traditional paddy and wheat crops on that land. He could only manage to grow enough to feed his family, and sell some in the market, and barely had any savings.
But things changed dramatically for Rakesh Kumar when in 2018, he heard about a development programme for mushroom cultivation in his district. Initiated by the Gaya-based non profit SumArth/Microx Foundation, the project has helped more than 2,000 farmers cultivate mushrooms, and hand held them from their cultivation right up to their marketing. The non-profit calls it a ‘360 degree solution' model.
“I knew nothing about mushrooms. But I did find out that they sold at a good price in the market. So I decided to grow them,” said Rakesh Kumar. He has now been cultivating mushrooms for three years. “I received training from SumArth and NABARD on how to cultivate mushrooms,” said the farmer who grows button mushrooms.
When he first went to the market with his produce, in a single day he managed to sell up to 12 kgs of the mushrooms at Rs 120 a kg, he said. “That year I made a profit of Rs 40,000, and it provided me with the kind of financial stability I had never had,” he said happily.
To further promote mushroom cultivation, on June 15, 2021, under the Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises Scheme, two Central Sector Scheme for Farmers Producers Organisations (CSS-FPO) were sanctioned for mushroom cultivation in Gaya. The project has been set up at Badachhati block and Manpur blocks in the district.
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According to Uday Kumar, district development manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the benefits are showing as mushroom production has increased five times in the past two years.
“Gaya is producing oyster mushrooms, white button mushrooms and pink oyster mushrooms. And now, mushrooms in Gaya come under the ‘one district one product’ for Gaya,” he said. “Gaya is the largest producer of mushrooms in Bihar, and the farmers in the district are enjoying the benefits of that,” he added.
The beginning of mushroom farming
The central government initiative is implemented by SumArth. “In 2018-19, in collaboration with SumArth, NABARD conducted awareness camps and training workshops for interested farmers,” said Vibhor Kumar, Assistant General Manager, NABARD, Patna. The training programmes were conducted again in 2020-21.
One of the farmers who attended the training programme was 35-year-old farmer Ravi Ranjan from Bargaon village in Gaya. “I went for training. It was free of cost and we were taught how to cultivate the mushrooms in the coming winters,” Ranjan recollected.
The 35-year-old farmer who traditionally cultivated rice and wheat in his four-hectare land with barely any earning from it, decided to try his hand at growing mushrooms. “I did not have the money to even start mushroom cultivation. But, SumArth and NABARD helped me out,” he said.
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With their help, Ranjan bought about 400 mushroom kits (each kit has the wherewithal to produce a kilo of mushrooms) at Rs 25 a kit, he said. He did not even have to worry about selling his produce. He could sell his entire produce to SumArth, if he so desired. But Ranjan managed to sell up to 40 kgs of mushrooms a day at the market.
“In the short span of only three to four months, I made a profit of around Rs 52,000. I did not have the expense of the initial investment of purchasing the kits, but once I made my money, I could repay SumArth at Rs 25 a kit,” Ranjan said.
SumArth and NABARD association
According to Prabhat Kumar, the co-founder of SumArth, who is based in Badgaon, “We are the largest producers of mushrooms across Gaya district,” he said. SumArth is closely associated with NABARD in its project to grow pre-cultivation mushrooms. According to him, in the winter months, between November and March their production can touch about 800 kgs per day.
“NABARD sanctioned Rs 19,42,000 for the project, and SumArth contributed Rs 29,78,000. It was the first professional approach by any organisation to provide an end-to-end solution for mushroom growing,” Prabhat Kumar said.
Outlining the components of the project Prabhat Kumar said that the farmers could purchase the mushroom kits at no interest from SumArth and pay back once they sold the mushrooms. The farmers could also sell their entire produce to SumArth, or in the open market. The repayment options were several and designed to be easy on the farmers, the co-founder said.
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According to him, the marketing of the mushrooms is hyperlocal and they sell them at the Kedarnath market, Tekari Mandi and Goh. Because the mushrooms are extremely perishable, there is a well-equipped canning unit set up in Bargaon, Gaya, by the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises under the Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries (SFURTI) at the cost of Rs 4 crore.
“We process the extra mushrooms into dry form, pack them in airtight cans and sell them in the local market under the brand name Kewal. It is our responsibility to provide farmers with broad market access,” Prabhat Kumar said.
The magic of mushroom kits
The first NABARD intervention in mushroom cultivation happened between October 15, 2019 and October 15, 2020, said Vibhor Kumar, the assistant general manager, NABARD, Patna. “We provided training to 500 farmers in that year, and provided each farmer with 100 mushroom kits at fifty per cent of its original cost,” said Vibhor Kumar. So each kit that would normally cost Rs 50 was sold to the farmers at Rs 25.
“NABARD also granted up to five lakh rupees to SumArth for capacity building,” he explained.
The second project of mushroom cultivation was initiated by NABARD in 2020-2021. The ‘Mushroom Hub With Complete Chain for 1000 Farmers’ project under the Farm Sector Promotion Fund in Gaya district, selected and trained 1,000 farmers across more than 50 villages. This time, according to Vibhor Kumar, the 1,000 farmers were given a discount of 25 per cent on the mushroom kits.
This project has provided farmers a substantial return in a span of 45 days, said Uday Kumar, DDM of NABARD at Gaya. “It provides an alternative source of income and potential livelihood opportunity. The average profit earned per kg of mushrooms is sixty five rupees. For implementing this project in 2020-2021, NABARD sanctioned Rs 19,03,000,” the official said.
According to him, the farmers have benefited a lot. “It has opened up an alternative source of income to the farmers and the returns are quick, just within a span of 45 days,” he pointed out. There is not much risk to mushroom cultivation and it provides the farmers protein rich nourishment for their families too.
Besides, said Uday Kumar, women can cultivate mushrooms easily and can become financially independent.
Social impact of the mushroom cultivation project
The NABARD project has brought about a considerable change in the lifestyles of the farmers, they say. “My two daughters and a son go to a convent school instead of the government school they were attending before,” said Rakesh Kumar of the Dhanchhuha village. The income he got from mushroom cultivation has allowed him to buy three buffaloes and a cow, besides leaving him with enough money to build a shed abutting his house, he said.
“We eat and drink better and we do not have to struggle in case we need medical care as the mushrooms have given me enough to deal with any emergency,” said Ravi Ranjan, another mushroom cultivator from Bargaon village.
But there are challenges. While mushroom cultivation can happen anywhere in the country, it is a cool climate that is best suited for it. “The winter months are perfect for it. They can also be grown in controlled environments, but most of the farmers in Gaya are not rich enough to afford refrigeration units or polyhouses,” Prabhat Kumar said.
The farmers on their part are hoping NABARD and SumArth will facilitate the setting up of infrastructure that can help them do better. “If the government provided us with solar energy, then I could cultivate mushrooms all year round,” said Rakesh Kumar. His village suffers from nearly eight to ten hours of power cuts in the summers, making it impossible to control the temperature for the mushrooms.
The success of the mushroom project has led to plans to bring in more farmers into the fold of mushroom cultivation in Gaya.
There is another mushroom project recently sanctioned by NITI Aayog with a grant support of Rs 97 lakh through the district administration of Gaya. NABARD is supporting the project. “There are plans to enlarge the mushroom farmer base in Gaya, which is around 10,000 now, to one lakh farmers with this grant,” Uday Kumar shared.
This story has been done as part of a partnership with NABARD.