If Pranjal Baruah has his way, there will soon be a mushroom revolution in the region.
In a bid to organise farmers and boost the region’s socio-economy, the Mushroom Development Foundation, Guwahati, of which Baruah is the founder-secretary, has developed 12 mushroom villages in four states of the Northeast, including Assam and 20 more clusters are in the pipeline this year.
Baruah said mushroom was being used as a tool to organise a cluster of villages so the region could benefit from a cheap nutritious food as well as from its export.
The entrepreneur said in developed countries, seven of 10 persons consumed mushrooms on a daily basis and it was expensive. But mushroom was not looked upon as a healthy and nutritious food item here and mushroom cultivation is not promoted on a large scale so that it could be consumed and exported.
“In 1978, China used to produce only 60,000 tonnes of mushroom and now it produces more than 1 million tonnes, 95 per cent of which is consumed. China stresses mushroom as a main food item to supplement nutritional needs which is not done in the northeastern states. Mushroom is considered an item served only in restaurants.”
Baruah, who is a pioneer in commercial mushroom cultivation in the state and exports mushrooms under the brand, Mushfill, said he started business after accessing the technology from the North East Institute of Science and Technology in Jorhat in 1994.
Soon after he shifted base to Guwahati as the capital was more accessible. His business boomed from an initial turnover of less than Rs 20,000 in 2003-04 to more than Rs 25 lakh per annum at present.
“As mushrooms are in great demand abroad and is expensive, there is a tremendous potential to tap this market. The Mushroom Development Foundation, a citizens’ organisation, organised the farmers who were interested in largescale cultivation. The few farmers growing mushrooms are disorganised and sell their produce here and there and do not get proper returns,” he said.
“Mushrooms do not require land and can be grown cheaply on agriculture waste. This is what China has been doing. It produces 1,000 tonnes of agriculture waste while India produces 600 tonnes, a large part of it in the Northeast,” he added.
The cluster of villages has been set up in Golaghat, Merapani, Kamargaon and Numaligarh in Golaghat district, Dimoria, Boko and Kumarikatta in Kamrup district, Naharlagun, Mirijuli and Boroum in Arunachal Pradesh, Tura and Garo hills, Adenbari and Dambalgiri in Meghalaya and Khonoma in Nagaland.
In each of these villages, clusters range from 80 to 180 farmers. At present, clusters are being formed in Tinsukia, Makum and Digboi as well.
A website is also being designed where photographs of each of these farmers with their families and farms and details of villages can be accessed.
The objective is to create an interface with these farmers through geographical information system (GIS) mapping and provide agri-technological inputs to them when required.