How can farmers earn extra income in a limited space through organic means?
Pragnesh Patel, an MBA graduate who became a farmer, has come up with a fantastic solution – mushrooms. His small 18 x 45-foot mushroom shed is producing 700 kilos of oyster mushrooms every four months, earning him an extra Rs 4.2 lakh per year.
Pragnesh was originally working abroad in a large multinational corporation abroad. He had a great deal of success in that role. But after three years he felt it just wasn’t satisfying him. Something was still missing in his life.
That’s when he decided to come back to India. At first, he simply took up a similar role – doing strategic marketing for a large multinational company, Abbott, in Mumbai.
“Returning to India I noticed how many of my work colleagues and people around me were getting sick from eating bad food. That made me ask – what’s wrong with our food and lifestyle today? The more I researched the more I could see the importance of and need for growing our food organically.”
Pragnesh figured if he could do something back in his own small two-acre farm, his methods could be replicated by other local farmers. He spent many months going on the internet, researching different ideas about high-value products which could be grown on the limited space available to him.
He came across organic mushroom farming – and it seemed like the perfect solution to the challenge.
He could produce a large amount of produce in a small space. And it was a product which he was sure he could sell for a good price.
After much time spent watching videos on YouTube, he decided to try oyster mushroom cultivation. He managed to find some oyster mushroom spawn from a local source in Gujarat and set up a small bamboo shed for his first attempt. It was a decent success. In his first crop, he was able to grow 100 kg of oyster mushrooms.
But then came his next challenge – where to sell them?
Fortunately, this was where his marketing expertise came in most handy. He decided that with a little bit of hard work, he would be able to sell most of the mushrooms locally.
“I got to work producing a number of double-sided leaflets, one side explaining the health benefits of oyster mushrooms and the other side containing a few mushroom recipes people could try.”
Slowly but surely local people warmed up to the idea and he was able to sell more and more of his organic oyster mushrooms in local markets, for Rs 200 per kg.
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One more challenge he faced was that, like most fresh produce, oyster mushrooms were very perishable and only had a shelf life of a few days. After more research online he came up with a simple solution. Any mushrooms which weren’t sold on the first day of being picked, he would dry In a solar dryer.
The dry mushrooms could then be sold when the main fresh mushroom harvest was over – providing him with income most of the time and local people with a consistent and constant supply of mushrooms.
His second crop was even more successful, and this time he was able to grow more than 150 kgs of oyster mushrooms. Slowly but surely, the yield progressively improved until he is now able to get yields as high as 700kg of oyster mushrooms every four months!
With an annual total of around 2100 kg, this amounts to roughly Rs 4.2 lakh per year in income. All this from a small 18 x 45-foot mushroom shed.
Pragnesh is now planning to supply readymade mushrooms beds to farmers where they only need to water the beds and maintain the environment. He will purchase the mushrooms at a premium price and also help sell the harvest if the farmers are not able to sell it themselves.
“I want to make it as simple as possible for the farmers. I can supply all the raw materials necessary, from the mushroom spawn – the growing medium, the growing vessels and anything else which is required. I believe farmers shouldn’t be taken advantage of. I want to use my expertise in marketing to help them. I am planning to reach out to as many farmers and possible and help them earn extra income from cultivating mushrooms.”
His success hasn’t gone unnoticed and around 25 local farmers are now very interested in training with Pragnesh and starting up their own oyster mushroom cultivation.
He is even trying to convert his whole village into an organic village with the help and support of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Navsari. KVK has adopted his village for three years to help support the farmers’ transition into organic agriculture by providing training and seminars.