Bihar: A Mushrooming Success with Rural Women at its Centre
A chance encounter with a curry in Delhi led to Shashi Bhushan Tiwari setting up a mushroom cultivation enterprise in his village in Muzaffarpur that sells button mushrooms worth Rs 50 lakh per month, and provides employment to over 100 rural women.
Pawan Kumar 17 Oct 2023 8:18 AM GMT
Shashi Bhushan Tiwari smiles as he talks of the beginnings of his mushroom business which is earning him several lakhs of rupees every month and providing employment to 100 rural women in Bihar.
It was a chance visit to a restaurant in Delhi, just before the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, where he happened to eat a mushroom preparation that started his journey, the 48-year-old laughed.
“I was working at the Azadpur Mandi in Delhi and when I tasted mushroom for the first time, I loved it. I bought mushrooms at the mandi and took it home to prepare it,” Bhushan told Gaon Connection.
Three years later, Tiwari, who quit his job in the pandemic, now owns a flourishing mushroom cultivation business in his village Jasauli in Motipur block in Muzaffarpur district, about 100 kilometres from the state capital Patna.
Of the 150 people employed in his Nanda Mushroom Farm, 100 are rural women who earn anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 14,000 a month.
Tiwary’s farm, which is spread over mere 2.5 bigha land (1 bigha = 0.25 hectare), yields up to 40 to 45 tonnes (1 ton = 1,000 kilogram) of mushrooms every month. The price fluctuates, but on an average he said that he is able to sell mushrooms at Rs 130 a kilogram.
“I manage to sell and earn about fifty lakh rupees a month of which about twelve lakh rupees go towards salaries and about thirty lakh are operational costs. There are times some machinery may break down, or there is some emergency…,” said Tiwary. Whatever is left, about Rs 8-10 lakh or so, is his profit for the month, he added.
Shashi Bhushan Tiwari is now famous as the Mushroom Man of Muzaffarpur. His farm supplies button mushrooms not only to various districts of Bihar, but also Nepal. Bhutan, Uttar Pradesh and states in northeast India.
Tiwari cannot forget the first time he tasted mushrooms in Delhi when he was working with fruit vendors and trading in fruits. “I was surprised to learn that mushrooms were an expensive commodity. I began to think of a business centred around mushrooms. Why not deal with something that is both tasty and has a good price, I thought to myself,” he narrated to Gaon Connection.
Out of curiosity, he began to make enquiries with the others he worked with at the vegetable mandi and gathered more information. He got the opportunity to visit some mushroom farms in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab and the determination to start one himself got a stronger hold of him.
“In 2020, when I returned home to my village Jasauli in Muzaffarpur, during the pandemic, I thought it was a good time to see if I could translate my dream of a mushroom farm into reality,” said Tiwari, who owned two and a half bighas of land and decided to turn it into his mushroom farm.
“I had already gathered a lot of information about mushroom cultivation and back in Muzaffarpur, I made the acquaintance of some government officials, who guided me on how to go about it,” he said. He made repeated visits to the agriculture department and the horticulture department, got a loan from the bank (Tiwari did not reveal how much loan he took) and started.
An investment with rich dividends
His 2.5 bighas of land now yield about 1.5 tonnes of mushrooms per day. The soil bed is prepared with the fertilisers and the spawn (mushroom seeds) is introduced in stages.
From putting the spawns into the soil bed to full grown mushrooms takes about 35 days. About one tonne of mushrooms are obtained from 500 kgs of spawn.
“Now I get the spawn from Delhi and spend about Rs 150 per kilo of spawn,” said Tiwari. He said the rates of the mushrooms varied but sold at about Rs 130 a kilo in local markets. Vendors come to his farm to pick up the button mushrooms, and he also supplies them to the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan.
Tiwary said he had invested about Rs 15 crores on his farm so far and earns about Rs 50 lakh rupees a month from it. Tiwari has more plans to grow his mushroom business. He said he wanted to be more in control of the quality of the mushroom seeds or spawn as they are called.
For this, he intends to set up his own lab where they will be developed. He said the lab will be ready in a couple of months.
Improving lives and income
Finding a dedicated labourforce was a challenge for Tiwari. “I began to look for help to work in my farm from villages around where I lived. Initially I had many male labourers, but they would work only in the off season and invariably push off to other bigger cities in search of work,” he recalled.
It was then that Tiwari decided that having a women workforce made more sense. He began to employ women and made sure he looked after them well.
“I provided the women with transport to pick them up and drop them back home,” he said.
Of his 150 employees, 100 are women. These women had no regular source of income. “They mostly worked during the harvesting season of wheat and paddy as farm labourers, and earned nothing the rest of the year. But at the mushroom farm, they started to earn regularly all through the year,” Tiwari said.
Tiwari’s mushroom farm has given many women something to be happy about. Back in the day when they worked in the farms helping with either sowing or harvesting, these rural women would each get paid Rs 150 for working six kathas of land. Or, they would get paid in kind with paddy or wheat.
Depending on the volume of work, now the women earn anything between Rs 10,000 to Rs 14,000 a month, he added.
“Before it was just our husbands earning and we barely made ends meet, but now we are contributing to the kitty and it has made all the difference,” Gudiya, who comes to Tiwary’s farm from Motipur village 16 kilometres away from Jasauli, told Gaon Connection.
“I know the value of education even though I am not educated. We wanted to educate our son, but had no money to send him to a good school. But, since I started working at this farm, I made enough money to send him to a convent,” Rekha Devi, who comes from Mathua, about seven kilometres away from Jasauli, told Gaon Connection.
“Until I started working here, I had never heard of mushrooms. And I am 45 years old,” Banarasi Devi, one of Tiwari’s employees, told Gaon Connection. “I can’t imagine eating the same ‘vegetables’ that rich people eat, and here I am eating and feeding my family mushrooms,” she smiled.
Tiwari said that mushroom cultivation was all year around and not a seasonal affair, as it grew in a controlled environment inside sheds.
Mushroom cultivation is also beneficial to the other farmers, he pointed out. “We buy the discarded chaff of wheat and paddy, poultry manure, etc., to be used as fertilisers for our mushroom cultivation. This way the farmers earn some extra income too,” he added.
Mushroom scientist Dr Dayaram, former project director at Advance Centre of Mushroom Research, College of Basic Sciences and Humanities at Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, Pusa, Samastipur, told Gaon Connection that about 35,000 tonnes of mushrooms are cultivated in Bihar a year.
“Oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms, milky mushroom, paddy straw, shitake and Hericium erinaceus are the six varieties that are grown here,” the scientist said. He said the growing conditions in the state were ideal for mushroom cultivation. The state government provides 50 per cent subsidies to mushroom farmers to set up their enterprise, he added.
“Training in mushroom cultivation is provided periodically at Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agriculture University in Pusa in Samastipur district; at the Krishi Vishwavidyalaya at Bhagalpur, and at the Bihar Agriculture Management & Extension Training Institute in Patna,” said Dr Dayaram.