Women Mushroom Farmers Cultivate An Empowered Future

Women Mushroom Farmers Cultivate An Empowered Future

Odisha’s Borbhata village is a model hamlet where women mushroom farmers paved the way for social development and individual progress. But things weren’t always this way. Under Oxfam’s Creating Spaces* project women in the community were trained in mushroom cultivation (using the paddy straw beds method).

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Borbhata is located in the Madanpur Rampur Block in Kalahandi district. The total population of the village is 388 and the number of households is 103. Most of the residents in the village are from the Gond tribal community and agriculture is the main source of livelihood for them. Paddy is the principal primary crop for cultivation. Other major crops include maize, ragi, jowar, black gram, green gram and sugarcane. The village also depends on forest-based products like mahua, kendu leaf, wood, timber and  bamboo, which largely contribute to the local economy. Out of the 103 households, 14 families are landless and they mostly work as daily labourers in paddy fields as well as road construction sites.

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown resulted in restrictions throughout Odisha. It directly affected rural livelihoods. Small farmers and agribusinesses were unable to process their fresh produce or have access to markets. Declining demand and lower prices led to food waste and income loss. The collection and sale of non-timber forest produce like kendu leaves and mahua flowers by tribal communities in Odisha was badly affected by the lockdown, as well.

When Oxfam India started working with the Gond community, the women in the community faced several restrictions. Participating in public space meetings wasn’t encouraged. Women were not allowed to sit in the same place where men sit. No women participants are allowed to speak in the community meetings, not even the aggrieved women. The community council was a men-only group.

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Through the project, Oxfam India was committed to equal participation of women’s collectives in sustainable livelihood programmes under the Odisha government. Women from Borbhata were identified for the livelihood programme through group meetings; these were attended by community members and youth collectives. Groups were created according to the skills of the women, after which the groups received training on rural development and sustainable agriculture.

Officials from government agencies were invited as resource persons to provide support and trained women in collecting raw material, seeds and market linkages. With support from the Odisha Livelihood Mission, 15 women from the women’s collective were trained in mushroom cultivation from paddy straws. Upon completing their training, 11 women formed two mushroom cultivation units and started mushroom farming on a trial basis, which yielded positive results.

The group had been thoroughly trained—from cutting, wetting and sterilising straw to final bed preparation—by technical experts through practical demonstrations.The group was supplied with all the inputs required to prepare mushroom beds and a proper follow up for the management of beds was conducted.

With the required support, the women gained confidence to take up mushroom farming as a subsidiary vocation. From August to November 2021, the group successfully prepared 158 mushroom beds. Mushroom cultivation is a low cost business which requires minimal start-up capital and limited space. An average yield of 1 kg per bed in the case of paddy straw mushrooms could fetch them from INR 250 to INR 280 per bed, while the cost of raising a bed is INR 50. The income generated from mushroom cultivation would enable sustainable development, and enhance women’s decision-making power in the home and the community.

Prior to expanding livelihood opportunities through mushroom farming, they used to be solely dependent on forest produce and manual labour to arrange for two square meals a day. Forty-nine year old Shivaratri Patra, one of the members of the group, states, “Earlier we had no idea about mushroom cultivation. After receiving training we know that growing mushrooms is easy and does not require a lot of space and time. For women who have no extra source of income, this is a viable venture”.

One of the 11 women was Shivaratri Patra. Read her story here.

Women mushroom farmers of Borbhata shared that mushroom cultivation is a profitable form of farming unlike traditional crops and vegetables. At present, the local market is growing and there is no problem in marketing mushrooms after harvesting. Through mushroom cultivation, the Borbhata women’s collective is headed towards a successful group enterprise. They have also become capable in meeting their household-level nutritional and financial needs.

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Under the Project, Oxfam India conducted group discussions and meetings on women’s economic rights with a focus on how women’s lives have been impacted by livelihood services. Women’s leadership has been promoted by encouraging participation in community initiatives and a direct voice in decision-making.

Now, elected women representatives from the Gond community have been encouraged to participate in this initiative and address gendered norms that perpetuate different forms of violence. The representatives have already taken steps to proactively address local developmental issues such as preventing child marriage, promoting education, health services and addressing violence against women and girls. By building livelihood opportunities, the women’s collective has developed their skills in sustainable agriculture and are now actively working towards participating in decision-making at the community level.

*Oxfam’s Creating Spaces Project is an initiative that takes action to reduce violence against women and girls - including child, early and forced marriages. Some of the many aspects of the project involve improving access to social services, medical assistance, counselling, job training, and legal aid. The project provides women with tools to take control of their lives and to build a better future for themselves. One of the many aspects of the Creating Spaces Project involves supporting enterprise development initiatives for women and girls.

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