How do you sell mushrooms to a community that believes they are poisonous?
At 22, Babita Rawat from Uttarakhand’s Umeral village, was faced with a similar question.
For her, the only motive to start farming was to care for her father. She had to start working by the time she turned 19 due to his ill health. With nine members to care for in the house, the financial responsibility fell on her shoulders.
“Due to my father’s heart issues, I had to learn the basics of farming and juggle my studies. I didn’t want my family to go under huge debt, so I decided to introduce new crops besides wheat and pulses on our 17 naali (an acre) of land,” she tells The Better India.
Resilience and determination are Babita’s strengths. Not only has she eradicated myths around oyster mushrooms in her village, but has also trained 500 more women to grow the fungi themselves.
“I approached the markets run by local governments and told them about my produce, which I had packaged properly. I spoke to customers directly and answered all their questions. This worked and soon the demand for mushrooms increased,” Babita, now 25, tells The Better India. Her first sale brought her a profit of Rs 1,000.
Juggling studies & farming
From learning to plough and sow on her own to attending training programmes conducted by the Agriculture Department, Babita prepared herself in many ways to introduce new techniques on her land. Alongside, she began dairy farming.
Her days started with ploughing the field, after which she would walk nearly 5 kilometres to attend college. On her way, she would sell milk. After returning home, she would visit her farm once again, or attend a training workshop. Evenings and nights were reserved for studying.
With the money she gathered from these, she decided to take the risk of adding more vegetables to her land — peas, okra, capsicum, brinjal, cabbage, onion, garlic, mustard, spinach, radish, and more.
With help from her father, brothers, and sisters, she also introduced organic fertilisers to eliminate use of chemicals, she says.
“We make vermicompost from cow dung and use it as manure for soil. We spray either neem oil or neem paste for nutrients and to keep pests away. Finally, jeevamrutha, a mixture of cow dung and cow urine, helps in strengthening the roots. It was only a simple switch, but it gave us great returns. Additionally, we saw changes in our health,” says Babita.
Next came a tiny polyhouse where she started growing tomatoes. In just one cycle, she harvested 1 quintal, which she says was almost twice of what the conventional way would give. The polyhouse maintains the required temperature throughout the year, so it is easy to have more than one cycle, she notes.
However, the best selling product became mushrooms, which interestingly, did not require high investments. Babita adopted an easy method to use stubble or agro-waste and soybean waste to grow one of the most healthy, albeit expensive foods in the Indian market. She began with an investment of Rs 500.
“I first soak the straw in water for a few hours to soften and remove dirt. After sterilising and drying it, I mix it with the seeds and deposit them in a polybag. After 2-3 weeks, the mushrooms start sprouting. My income from the crop alone is close to Rs 20,000 every cycle,” she says.
After experimenting in a small room of her house, she moved to an abandoned house in her village, where she conducts mushroom workshops from this house.
Rajni, a farmer in the village, underwent training under Babita last year, and was able to yield 12 kilos of mushroom in her first cycle. Each kilo fetched her around Rs 300, she says.
“Mushrooms are easier to grow when compared to vegetables and fruits. The investment is also less. Babita helped me get seeds and polybags and even gave me market linkages to sell my produce,” she says.
Babita’s training soon gained popularity in her district, and even in the neighbouring district of Chamoli, she says. As demand for organic seeds and plants from farmers, especially women, increased, she started her own nursery.
For her organic farming methods, the state government felicitated her with the prestigious Tilu Rauteli Award last year.
Over the years, Babita has inspired farmers in her village to shift their practices from single cropping to multi cropping while eliminating the use of chemicals. This includes Rajni, who is happy she does not have to spend money on purchasing fertilisers from outside.
Edited by Divya Sethu