Variety

Money mushrooms indoors

Sarita Brara | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on April 10, 2015

Weather-proof growth Farmer Subhash works in his mushroom shed SARITA BRARA

Weather-proof growth Farmer Subhash works in his mushroom shed SARITA BRARA

Ashu Chandel with sandalwood saplings at his nursery

The edible fungus has transformed the economy of Shamlaich village in Himachal Pradesh



Nine-year-old Ashu Chandel had to leave school after Class IV to earn for his extremely poor family in Shamlaich village in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan district. After labouring in restaurants, shops and even a factory for two to three years, he returned to his village to work for a mushroom grower, Vikas Benal, who had set up a spawn and compost production unit.

The young boy noticed that while he struggled for eight-nine hours a day to earn just over ₹5,000 a month, farmers from surrounding villages bought compost bags from his employer and earned much more growing mushrooms. That set him thinking about starting a mushroom unit and he began saving money for it.

In 2001, aged 21, he invested over ₹13,000 to construct a kuchha shed in a 400 sqft area for mushroom cultivation. In the very first year he earned ₹33,000 and never looked back. Today, his annual income exceeds ₹7 lakh. In fact, nearly every household in Shamlaich, located a few kilometres from the Directorate of Mushroom Research in Solan, today has a mushroom unit and farm incomes have greatly multiplied.

Even until a few years ago, farmers here depended entirely on growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and faced tough times whenever the crop failed due to the vagaries of nature. Mushroom has reduced the village’s livelihood risk. “Today, villagers can bank on an assured income from mushroom, which is grown indoors,” says Subhash, a farmer in Shamlaich.

Mushroom production has, in fact, changed the complexion and economy of the village. From a poor village dotted with kuchha houses, Shamlaich today is a picture of prosperity. Almost every family lives in a concrete house, often replete with marble tiles, dish antenna on the rooftop, and a vehicle or two.

Gram Pradhan Baldev Singh recalls that farmers earlier wasted time playing cards, drinking or gossiping after the harvest, but now they grow seasonal mushrooms from September to October and March to April.

This success story in Shamlaich was directly inspired by Benal’s successful foray into mushroom cultivation in 1990 with an initial investment of ₹6,500. Today his business commands an annual turnover of ₹4 crore. Benal not only provides farmers with ready compost but also markets their mushroom produce through his well-established distribution network. Apart from processing mushrooms, he claims to have developed an improved technique for growing the high-priced Shiitake mushrooms, with plans for large-scale production.

More importantly, this postgraduate in Commerce opted to start his own venture instead of taking up a job and, in turn, inspired fellow villagers to not only set up mushroom units but also diversify. While one farmer has started growing carnations side by side, others have turned to broccoli.

Chandel has gone one step further. As he does not have cultivable land, he has entered into a partnership to grow sandalwood saplings, which he calls his permanent “fixed deposit”. “Whereas each sapling costs ₹200, one can earn lakhs of rupees after 12 to 15 years as sandalwood prices are growing at the annual rate of 30 per cent,” says Chandel, who has cultivated 2,500 saplings from seeds he bought from Karnataka.

Having struggled in his early years due to poverty, Chandel wants other farmers in the State to raise their income by cultivating mushroom and sandalwood. Spending his own money, time and energy, he has launched an awareness campaign.

“This would not have been possible without an assured income from mushrooms,” he says. Yes, he is the typical young entrepreneur from a small village with big dreams for himself and others.

The writer is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist

Published on April 10, 2015
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