Hundreds of plastic bottles and several kilograms of agricultural waste found a new life, thanks to two professors at the MCM DAV College for Women in Chandigarh.
Inspired by an initiative focusing on solid waste management at their college, the professors, along with students, cultivated species of mushrooms that not only utilised large quantities of waste but also empowered rural folk of Chandigarh.
About a year and a half ago, the Chandigarh college had initiated a programme that encouraged the teachers and students to devise innovative, novel ideas to manage liquid and solid waste.
Among the many ideas initiated, was one about cultivating oyster mushrooms in the college campus. Assistant Professors Vandana Sharma and Sandeep Kaur spearheaded this initiative and got their students to help them out in the course.
The Better India spoke to Kaur about the novelty of this idea and how it will benefit local communities.
She answers, “There is a lack of awareness about the health benefits of mushrooms in the rural communities. We are familiar only with the button mushrooms but there are many other edible species that can be grown. Since mushroom is essentially a fungus, it requires very less investment but is a very profitable crop.”
Lack of space is a major obstacle for farmers who wish to experiment with a new crop. Mushroom cultivation solves this.
She adds, “It requires very less space to grow. In fact, if you start cultivating oyster mushrooms in a 2-litre soft-drink bottle, it will give you a yield of about 0.5 kg in the first batch itself.”
This, she says, will benefit farmers and rural women. “They can cultivate a profitable crop without investing much in terms of land or finance.”
The Food Science Department faculty elaborates that the initial idea was not to utilise plastic bottles as pots. Rather, it was only to dispose of agricultural waste in a proper, eco-friendly way.
The Chandigarh professors were spearheading the cause of farmers in Punjab and Haryana burning stubble after harvest. Each kilogram of hay burnt contributed to air pollution in several parts of Northern India. And so, they were hoping to utilise the stubble as fertiliser for mushrooms.
“But as we began the project, we wondered why we couldn’t use plastic bottles as pots for the fungi cultivation. So plastic bottles from the college campus were cleaned and sterilised to have mushrooms growing in them,” says Kaur.
Elaborating on why it is important, especially for farmers, to be aware of the types of mushrooms, she said that firstly, it will help them increase their income by a large margin.
Apart from that, the nutrition it provides is unlike no other single vegetarian food.
“Apart from helping the farmers, the oyster or dhingri as they are called in Hindi, is extremely beneficial for the consumers. They carry micro as well as macronutrients.
Low on fat and carbohydrates, the edible fungi are high on proteins and fibre. They are also extremely good sources of micronutrients like iron, zinc and magnesium.
If vegetarian families, especially women, start consuming mushrooms in their regular diet, the deficiencies of these minerals can be tackled very easily,” explains Kaur.
For eight months since the project began, the team of teachers and students were experimenting on moisture and temperature levels to see which combination would boost the growth of the mushrooms.
The first batch of seeds was procured from Solan in Himachal Pradesh but now, the college has developed their own spawn for the cultivation.
Next in the plan is to fortify the mushrooms to increase their nutritional value for the benefit of rural women. They also aim to train local communities in the cultivation of the edible fungi so as to empower them financially.
A project that tackles both plastic waste and a major cause of air pollution as well as emphasises on the nutrition needs of rural folk, oyster mushroom farming is empowering in many ways.
Recently, it won the third award for the ‘best citizen-led innovation’ challenge by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. A grand recognition for their work, the Chandigarh professors are showing how versatile and empowering a simple idea can be.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)