Bihar homemaker Rekha Kumari turned entrepreneur with a successful mushroom business she started at home, selling laddoos, biscuits, pickles and more and earning lakhs from it.
As a housewife and mother of three, Rekha Kumari from Hathua in Bihar had her hands full for years until her children grew up and left home for further education.
Not one to sit idle, she decided to use the time she now had to explore farming and entrepreneurship together through a mushroom business.
“I had a lot of free time and wanted to beat the boredom, but productively. While looking for ideas, I read about the scope of mushroom cultivation in the newspaper. What attracted me the most was the convenience of growing them at home itself,” Rekha tells The Better India.
What started as a small endeavour with just Rs 1,000 in 2013 turned into a flourishing agricultural and entrepreneurial venture within a few years.
Today, her mushroom farming earns her a business of Rs 3 to 4 lakh a year. With her learnings about the profession over the years, Rekha has also trained thousands in mushroom farming, she says.
‘Started with Rs 1,000 from my bedroom.’
In 2013, when Rekha discovered the potential of mushrooms, its nutritional qualities and the scope of growing it, she started studying more about the fungi on YouTube.
“I also interacted with several others who were already cultivating mushrooms,” says the 51-year-old.
Rekha, who started her venture without proper training, says that she wouldn’t advise this, as she experienced several losses in the beginning due to lack of knowledge. She then took training from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Sipaya and Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University Pusa in Samastipur in 2018.
“I was guided by Dr Sanjay Kumar, a scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and trained by Dr Dayaram Rao, who is my guru in this venture. It was only after the training that I started receiving positive results,” says the economics graduate.
Starting with just oyster mushrooms, she has now expanded her cultivation to five more varieties — button mushrooms, milky button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, hericium mushrooms and paddy straw mushrooms.
The expanded cultivation now takes over six rooms in her own house.
“After receiving proper training, there was no turning back. I became more confident to explore and expand the business further. Eventually, I also started making mushroom spawns on my own at home,” she says.
Marketing through value-addition
Rekha grows various seasonal mushroom varieties through the year under her registered venture Anand Jyoti Mushroom Utpadan Kendra.
With guidance from the officials of Krishi Vigyan Kendra and the agricultural university, she experimented with selling value-added mushrooms products in order to stretch the shelf life of her produce. “Over the years, I learnt to make different value-added products like mushroom powder, pickles, biscuits, samosas, namkeen, ladoos, and so on,” she adds.
The products are sold through her centre and local shops. “The mushroom powder can be used as a health supplement by mixing it with milk or by adding it in different dishes like kheer, seva etc,” she explains.
Mushroom-based namkeen is priced at Rs 250 per kg, biscuits and laddoos at Rs 400 per kg, samosas at Rs 300 per kg.
“In the initial years, I had to depend on my husband to invest in my business. But now I have been able to make a steady income and earn around Rs 3-4 lakh a year,” she says, adding that it was her husband Ashwini Kumar who encouraged her to pursue her dream to be an entrepreneur.
After reaping success, Rekha decided to train people in mushroom cultivation and value addition. “I felt that there are many people, especially women, who could benefit from mushroom cultivation. I was sure that just like it helped me, it would help many stand on their own feet,” she explains.
“Through my free online classes, I have been able to train people in different parts of the country like Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir, Andamans, Mumbai, and so on. Besides, I conduct paid training classes every month at home,” she says. “Since 2018, I have trained around 1,000 people online and offline, among which around 500 have been growing mushrooms actively.”
Sheela Devi, a resident of Andaman and Nicobar islands, took online training from Rekha and has been actively cultivating mushrooms. “I came to know about Rekha through YouTube and attended her free online training around three years ago. Ever since, I have been able to grow oyster mushrooms that usually don’t grow well in Andamans. I applied what she taught me in the training and it has been very beneficial.”
“I have been able to earn around Rs 45,000 on an average per month before expenses,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Rekha says, “Though it requires proper training and hard work, mushroom cultivation is something anyone can adopt and earn a good income from. This is especially true for unemployed women who are looking forward to starting something on their own at home.”
For more information, you can contact Rekha Kumari at 7667594296.
Edited by Divya Sethu