Poverty and a desperation to earn money led Anita Devi to a unique solution: fungus!
Anita has a degree in home science and has also been trained at Dr Rajendra Prasad central Agriculture in Bihar and GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Uttarakhand. The 40-year-old currently cultivates organic mushrooms as a source of income in Anantpur, Bihar.
Anita implemented her knowledge of horticulture in mushroom cultivation, and today her annual earnings are in lakhs! She started the ‘Madhopur Farmers Producers Company’ a few years ago and has successfully involved women from the neighbouring villages, in an effort to empower them. Today, nearly 250 women are working with her company.
Oyster and Milky white are the two varieties of mushrooms that the women grow in Nalanda. Anita alone cultivates around 15 to 20 kg of oyster mushroom daily, which she sells for ₹ 80 in wholesale and ₹ 120 in retail markets.
“The women have successfully changed their status from poverty-stricken to prosperous,” Anita told Village Square.
The mushroom cultivation has improved Anita’s livelihood manifold. At one point, her family was struggling to make ends meet. However, today, her husband has had the opportunity to work with her team and has saved enough to open a garment shop in the village. Both her sons are following Anita’s footsteps and pursuing a graduation in horticulture. Her daughter is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Education.
The steady growth in her income encouraged women from her village to take up mushroom cultivation, and soon, women from neighbouring villages followed suit. Her success has prompted her to be called “Mushroom Mahila” or “Mushroom Lady” in Nalanda.
Anita has also formed women’s self-help groups under Jeevika, a rural livelihood programme initiated by the Bihar Government, and hopes to employ more women. “I have targeted to double the number of women. If things move as per plan, I will fulfil the target of getting 500 women to grow mushrooms by next year,” says Anita.
Anita’s journey to this success wasn’t always this smooth. In the initial phase of her venture, she was teased, mainly by women, for growing “Gobar Chatta”, the local name of wild mushrooms. “They never missed an opportunity to embarrass me by telling me it will not help me to change my life,” she recalls.
She even faced challenges with the supply of seeds for production. When Anita was the sole cultivator, she would purchase about 20 kg of seeds from Rajendra Agriculture University. However, when dozens of women joined the brigade and the demand for seeds shot up to 300 kg, the University refused supply because this large a quantity could not be given to a single buyer.
Anita crossed this obstacle by opening a seed production facility at Anantpur. She now successfully supplies seeds to small-scale cultivators, NGOs, and government agencies. She is positive that the demand will increase as the temperatures drop down.
Anita told the Village Square, “Mushroom farming has not only empowered hundreds of other women and me but has also given a boost to our rural economy. Thanks to mushroom growing, women in villages are now earning members, and are no longer dependent on their husbands and family.”