Why India Needs More Mushroom Farmers (Part 3/3)
India is said to have over 38 million unemployed people as per reports published in December 2020. Though this number is disputed, it is still alarmingly high and unemployment continues to be the largest social issue in India.
Mushroom cultivation is an extremely labor-intensive process and this is precisely what makes it expensive to cultivate mushrooms in the USA and Europe. The whole process can only be automated partly and there are critical parts of the growing cycle that need human intervention. In India, we have a wealth of human resources, both skilled and unskilled, which can be utilized to fuel the growing international demand for cheap and high-quality mushrooms. With the right training and supportive ecosystem, India has the potential to turn into the mushroom cultivation hub of the world.
More people getting into controlled cultivation of fungi can create a multitude of jobs across the sector, which can address the issue of seasonal unemployment currently present in the agricultural sector. With more investment into the larger mushroom ecosystem, like developing value-added products or manufacturing spawn, more job opportunities will get created across the whole mushroom value chain.
There is a need today more than ever to redefine the status of women in Indian society. Economic empowerment through financial independence is one of the ways in which we can help women gain access to their rightful share of things in different spheres of life. We can do this by giving women access to resources that can help them generate a stable source of income. Without economic strength or reasonable income security women will always lack the freedom to make rational choices and to become socially responsible.
Some mushrooms such as oysters can be cultivated at home with low technical inputs and skills, due to new cultivation techniques like cold water pasteurization which removes the need for any equipment. Oyster mushrooms grow fast (one complete cycle in 45 days), are also quite hardy, and can tolerate changes in an external environment to a larger extent compared to other mushrooms. Therefore, the cultivation of oyster mushrooms at home is a relatively fast and easy way for women to earn a livelihood and supplement their income from other sources such as rearing cows or chicken farming which are the current favorites among women to make a living. As long as the production volumes are commercially viable and they have access to a steady market, small-scale cultivation of mushrooms is a viable option. A single household can make up to 1 ton of oyster mushrooms in a cycle with just 600 sq ft of dedicated growing area. The synergy of a group is much higher than an individual, so adopting a participatory approach like setting up self-help groups centered around mushroom cultivation can definitely help make women an equally important paradigm of the development process.
It is safe to say that mushrooms are in line with our current agro-economy and can play a vital role in serving many needs such as environmental, socio-economic and health which are key to a healthy, flourishing country. As Indians, we have to look deeper into the mycoverse, understand fungi and their benefits and adapt them suitably to our current climates and weather patterns. For consumers to help grow this ecosystem and support farmers, encouraging conversations surrounding mushrooms and adapting them in our diets is equally important if not, vital to the survival of mushroom cultivation industry.
If you’d like to recap on the other two parts that addressed two key areas: