Fun­gal Gold Rush

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asra Khur­shid

The Ura val­ley in cen­tral Bhutan is fa­mous for its over 100 species of mush­rooms, of which some 50 are edi­ble. Their cul­ti­va­tion has be­come a ma­jor source of liveli­hood for the peo­ple of the val­ley. The fleshy and edi­ble species of the macro fungi, lo­cally known as ‘San­gay Shamu’, are an im­por­tant source of in­come for the lo­cal peo­ple as their har­vest­ing con­trib­utes to in­come gen­er­a­tion, food se­cu­rity and con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­sity.

How­ever, to keep pace with the grow­ing de­mand for edi­ble mush­rooms, de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture and hu­man ca­pac­ity is es­sen­tial. The wide­spread pro­mo­tion of cul­ti­va­tion and pro­duc­tion of mush­rooms has a com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage over other crops be­cause of a limited num­ber of land­hold­ers in Ura.

Some of the popular species of edi­ble mush­rooms are the mat­su­take

mush­room and the chanterelle, etc. The mat­su­take mush­room is known for its dis­tinct spicy odor and grows at an al­ti­tude of 3,000 me­ters. It is found in clus­ters at the base of pine trees and is col­lected once a year. The har­vest­ing sea­son starts from the month of July and lasts till mid-Septem­ber. The in­creas­ing growth of edi­ble mush­room has led to a col­lec­tive ac­tiv­ity where peo­ple gather to pluck mush­rooms. In Bhutan, the ‘mat­su­take fes­ti­val’ is ob­served in Au­gust to cel­e­brate the har­vest of this dis­tinct mush­room.

A large num­ber of peo­ple at­tend the fes­ti­val to cher­ish the beauty of the val­ley's per­fumed trails and ex­pe­ri­ence the unique mass ac­tiv­ity of dis­cov­er­ing and pluck­ing mush­rooms. The fes­ti­val also of­fers a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to the peo­ple to visit some of the val­ley's sa­cred tem­ples, en­joy the lo­cal del­i­ca­cies and ob­serve the nu­ances of Bhutanese vil­lage life.

The main aim of mush­room cul­ti­va­tion is to re­duce the cur­rent rate of poverty and in­crease ru­ral in­come. It fur­ther tends to pro­mote prod­uct di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion for the tourism in­dus­try in Bhutan through in­dige­nous prod­ucts such as edi­ble mush­rooms. This also pro­motes eco-tourism, cul­tural tourism and com­mu­nity based tourism that in turn gen­er­ates in­come which is nec­es­sary for the sus­tain­abil­ity of the peo­ple.

While there are many pos­i­tive as­pects of the pic­ture, dis­ad­van­tages are also ev­i­dent. Poi­son­ing is a ma­jor source of con­cern as col­lec­tors, es­pe­cially the young and un­trained, are prone to col­lect poi­sonous mush­rooms as they can’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the var­i­ous types. Another prob­lem is the lack of gov­ern­ment con­cern about po­ten­tially harm­ful ac­tiv­i­ties such as dump­ing of in­dus­trial waste in the ar­eas where mush­rooms are grown, heavy metal con­tam­i­na­tion and use of ex­ces­sive pes­ti­cides or other chem­i­cals for crops that can af­fect the growth of mush­rooms.

Show­ing in­ter­est in the pro­mo­tion of edi­ble mush­rooms, the man­age­ment of the Thrumsh­ingla Na­tional Park has taken some ini­tia­tives in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ura Mush­room Con­ser­va­tion and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion ( UMCTA). The steps in­clude train­ing col­lec­tors in sus­tain­able har­vest­ing meth­ods and teach­ing them new tech­niques. While the trained per­son­nel pluck edi­ble mush­rooms, the un­trained ones from other ar­eas har­vest those mush­rooms which have been left be­hind by the trained pick­ers. De­spite limited staff, both or­ga­ni­za­tions are work­ing hard to en­sure sus­tain­able har­vest­ing.

The mat­su­take mush­room grows at an al­ti­tude of 3,000 me­ters and is found in clus­ters at the base of pine trees. It is known for its dis­tinct spicy odor.

A plan to build a high­way which will pass through the area to in­crease its ac­ces­si­bil­ity for tourists has hit a snag due to some lo­gis­tic and bud­getary con­straints. This has af­fected the num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing the val­ley, thus de­creas­ing the de­mand for mush­rooms. Re­gard­less, the de­mand for mush­rooms in the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets is much higher than their pro­duc­tion. The mat­su­take mush­room is ex­ported to Ja­pan, Korea as well as to some South Asian coun­tries.

The lo­cal farm­ers in Ura are de­pen­dent on mush­room col­lec­tion since they can­not grow many crops be­sides pota­toes and some medic­i­nal plants. The Na­tional Mush­room Cen­tre has been work­ing with mush­room col­lec­tors, es­pe­cially the farm­ers' group, to find ways to mar­ket fresh mush­rooms. Almost all the wild mush­rooms grow dur­ing a short span (July to Septem­ber, dur­ing the rainy sea­son) and the fresh mar­ket is very limited. There­fore the mush­rooms col­lected from re­mote and dis­tant lo­ca­tions tend to fetch a low price even in the lo­cal mar­ket.

Over ex­ploita­tion of wild edi­ble species can pose eco­log­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks to the peo­ple of Ura. Much work needs to be done to or­ga­nize an inventory of mush­rooms, many of which are found in a few lo­cal­i­ties only. This can be done by uti­liz­ing the lo­cal knowl­edge­base.

A well-man­aged pluck­ing of mush­rooms, qual­ity con­trol, price reg­u­la­tion and con­ser­va­tion of the mush­room ecol­ogy through sus­tain­able har­vest­ing tech­niques can lead to greater na­tional food se­cu­rity and more op­por­tu­ni­ties through pro­mo­tion of cash crops.

Lastly, the train­ing of farm­ers in mush­room cul­ti­va­tion, set­ting up tri­als and demon­stra­tion, pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal and ma­te­rial support to poor farm­ers to set up mush­room farms, in­tro­duc­ing wild edi­ble mush­room for home con­sump­tion, sus­tain­able har­vest­ing, man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing can lead to greater progress in the field.

Some other steps that can be help­ful in pro­mot­ing mush­room cul­ti­va­tion are tax­on­omy and inventory, cul­tur­ing and do­mes­ti­ca­tion of wild mush­rooms, cre­at­ing aware­ness of mush­room poi­son­ing, re­search and de­vel­op­ment of train­ing ma­te­rial for sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion chains, ca­pac­ity for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of agri­cul­ture prod­ucts and pro­cesses, brand­ing and pack­ing of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and a keen un­der­stand­ing of global food safety stan­dards.

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