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Mushroom farming drives hopes for women to earn better and improve quality of life

Story

By Chandrika Patnaik

18 January 2023

By adopting mushroom farming, women feel there is no need to go outside the home for work.

The first batch of mushroom harvest collected by the SHG members.

Photograph by Sasmita Jena

Members of self-help groups from Phirikinali and Shyamsundarpur village from Chandaka Panchayat on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, farm straw mushrooms to earn additional income. Maa Binapat SHG from Phirikinali village, and Maa Bhagwati and Maa Dalkhai SHGs from Shyamsundarpur village within the Chandaka forests, meet regularly every month since being reformed in 2020. They wished to better their incomes by starting a group enterprise. In December 2019, Gram Vikas started working with seven Fani-affected habitations in the Chandaka region through the UDAN project in order to strengthen the women’s self-help groups (SHGs) for  creating sustainable livelihoods.

Cyclone Fani made landfall in May 2019 and devastated the livelihood of the tribals from the region. Gram Vikas initiated working with the women SHGs reforming the groups, facilitating and activating bank linkages. Through a three-phase session, each of the interested SHGs prepared respective business plans for production, operation, and marketing of the desired products.

Gram Vikas mediated the SHGs’ linkages with Mission Shakti. Mission Shakti encouraged members of the three SHGs in the village to take up mushroom farming as part of the schemes and financial aid availability. The SHGs also showed interest to adopt mushroom cultivation as a supplementary income. Gram Vikas facilitated a day’s exposure visit to a farm in Pipli in Puri district in 2019. There were 16 women who learned the details of cultivation and management of mushrooms over the course of the demonstration.

Women and men from the village cycle to work as daily wage workers at construction sites or on farmlands during the paddy season earning Rs.350 a day in Chandaka Gram Panchayat, the neighbouring Daruthenga Gram Panchayat, and at times in Bhubaneshwar. Their children study in the two villages’ Upper Primary schools.

Having no land of their own and living within the Chandaka forest, women formed self-help groups to better their condition and create sustainable livelihoods to supplement their family’s income. Nearly 50% of the members of the three groups have completed at least Class 5 and do the bookkeeping themselves.

In March 2020, the three groups received loans from Mission Shakti that they had applied for the previous year. Maa Binapat from Phirikinali village received a loan of ₹1,00,000. Maa Bhagwati and Maa Dalkhai of Shyamsundarpur village received ₹1,40,000 and ₹1,60,000 in their respective groups. The groups received the loan in June 2021. The members who were trained in masonry, constructed the water tank  themselves for soaking paddy straw by immersing them in a water tank for 12 hours or more.

They procured bamboo to set up the structure and make raised straw beds. They also created a shed by covering the structure with polythene to protect the mushroom from direct sunlight and rain. They then procured the husk of wheat grain, chickpea flour, straw bundles, slaked lime, and mushroom seeds, once the structure and the water tank construction was completed.

After setting up the structure and the raised bamboo beds in rows with straw, they scattered the mushroom spawn, covered the bed with a transparent plastic sheet to maintain moisture and humidity, and lightly sprayed the same once a day. Gitanjali Bagsing, 28, President of Dalkhai SHG says: “The time when we set up the entire structure was a very difficult period for all of us. I am glad all the members from the two groups were together and we withstood the difficulties together. None of us could go out and earn a daily wage as we had to set up this structure. We had no earning during the time and so had no money to buy food but somehow survived through small loans that we took. Our husbands did not support us at all, but instead criticised us.” Similar sentiments were expressed by Meena Padhy, 28, a member of Dalkhai SHG: “From the beginning my husband, Manoj Padhy, was not at all cooperative. If he and the other men would have helped us in setting up this structure instead of making fun of our efforts, we could have saved on labour costs. We employed four labourers for seven days to set up the entire structure with the bamboo pillars and thatched roof and paid ₹400 to each daily. Now he is very happy that I and other members have been able to fulfill our dream of starting an enterprise and earning through it without going out of the village. He feels this is a big achievement.”

Mushrooms appeared within 12-15 days after the beds are spawned and continued for about a week. The total yield from a single bed was 2-2.5 kg.

Local sellers in Chandaka and Daruthenga Gram Panchayats were informed through word of mouth when the beds spawned. The buyers came to the villages to buy mushrooms daily and sold them to small hotels and other mushroom sellers. After spending ₹1,78,300 on input costs, the three SHGs sold a quintal and fifty kilos of mushrooms earning ₹70,000 between July-September 2022.

Deepa Naik, 26, of Dalkhai SHG says: “We constructed twenty beds. The total investment per cycle on a bed including straw and seed cost ₹1300; we were able to earn ₹2000 after selling the mushrooms from the single bed, with a net profit of ₹700.”

The SHG members feel mushroom farming does not require them to go out for an entire day to earn; it only  needs two hours a day of their time and so it is a viable and profitable venture for them as a livelihood option. Deepa Naik adds with a smile: “We can now look after our children and homes and earn as well. The results have encouraged us and built our confidence tremendously to continue mushroom farming.” All said and done, women from these villages depend on outside loans to meet sudden expenses at home, resulting in most families grappling with repaying loans by taking another one. They hope to continue farming mushrooms to pay off loans, earn an income, and take better care of their families.

SHG members preparing the mushroom beds and sprinkling the mushroom spawn.

Photograph by Sasmita Jena

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Sasmita Jena, Thematic Coordinator, Livelihoods, and Bhisma Kumar Bai, Junior Manager, Documentation and Communication, helped collect data for the story. Mark Lancy Sebastian edited the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.

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