Mushroom Cultivation Makes Communities Resilience

Mushroom Cultivation Makes Communities Resilience

Sitamarhi is a flood-prone district in Bihar. During the floods of 2016, and the subsequent years, there was huge destruction of lives and livelihoods. The worst affected were Dalits, and among them the Musahars since they were not even eligible for any compensation because they were share croppers.

Oxfam India has been working with these communities through its disaster risk reduction programme since 2012. It was in 2017 that it finally started its livelihood intervention programme — mushroom cultivation and vermicomposting — with the women from the Musahar community.

Why mushroom cultivation? Every year the floods destroy the Kharif crops; the Kharif crops are a boon for small and marginal farmer as it doesn’t need irrigation. Mushroom cultivation starts in November, which is soon after the floods, and continues till the first week of March. By December, the farmer starts earning from the cultivation.

Though these women were being trained in disaster preparedness, the biggest hurdle for mushroom cultivation was the availability of land—a small hygienic patch of land they could call their own. So this started with training two households in 2017. Apart from training and input support, constant supervision and help was provided to the women. By 2020, 64 households were doing mushroom cultivation, of which 23 belonged to the Musahar community.

Ram Kumari Devi belongs to the OBC community; she started mushroom cultivation in 2020. She lives in the flood-affected Koriyahi village in Bajpatti block in Sitamarhi. Her husband Hulash Mahto is a migrant worker; she is a daily wage agricultural labourer and also works as a community mobiliser with Jeevika. In December 2020, Oxfam India provided Ram Kumari with inputs i.e. 20 bags of raw material for mushroom (which included Casein 1 kg, compost 9 kg and spawn), room thermometer, one-litre sprayer and fungi-guard.

“We tracked her income. Until December, her average monthly income was somewhere around Rs 2000-2500. By March she had earned Rs 10,000 by selling 50 kg mushroom, apart from saving some for household consumption. This income was additional to what she made otherwise during these months,” explains Chandan, programme officer (DRR), Oxfam India.

It was particularly beneficial last year. Those who had started the cultivation in 2019 managed to earn a substantial amount just before the lockdown was announced. This helped them to tide over some of the toughest months during and after the lockdown. Men from these villages migrate and women work as daily wage labourers in the fields for extremely low wages. Due to the lockdown in 2020, most men returned to the villages having lost their jobs; women too couldn’t get any work. It was during this time that the income from the mushrooms really helped these families.

These women have formed a cooperative. They sell their produce in the local market, and to restaurants and close by government quarters. They sell it for anything between 200-300 Rs per kg. “While there are only 64 households involved at the moment, there are at least 200 more who would like to join. And this shows how successful we have been,” sums up Chandan.

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