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To curb malnourishment, Deoria schools to introduce mushrooms in mid-day meals

Local SHGs roped in for mushroom supply.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra | Lucknow |
January 21, 2021 9:29:15 am
Oyster mushroom, Deoria, Deoria mushroom cultivationOyster mushroom culivation in Deoria. Express Photo

The Deoria district administration on Wednesday announced it was all set to introduce mushrooms in mid-day meals in the state to address the problem of malnourishment in school children, following a notification from the Centre. Over the past year, Deoria has established itself as the hub of oyster mushroom production.

The project to introduce the nutrient-rich vegetable in mid-day meals is being implemented under a tripartite MoU signed by National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) in Deoria, the Basic Education Department, and a producer company (FPC) promoted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s technical support unit has been roped in to help with the financial aspects related to Self-Help Groups (SHGs) of mushroom cultivators.

Deoria Chief Development Officer (CDO) Shivsharnappa GN said that so far over 30 SHGs and 100 women had been trained in mushroom cultivation, and around 65 women had started cultivating mushrooms. According to an estimate, each SHG member produces more than 40 kgs of mushroom a month at the cost of Rs 16 per kg. While oyster mushrooms rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and an antioxidant like selenium, are quick and easy to grow, another major benefit of growing it is that farm stubble and waste are used as raw materials.

As per the terms of the MoU, the raw materials have been provided to the SHGs by the FPC, Mahalaxmi Producer Company. This has tackled the problem of stubble burning and encouraged farmers to sell their waste to the company.

Shivsharnappa said the administration had completed the mapping of SHGs with schools mentioned in the MoU. The district administration has also talked to school staff about the MoU and the importance of mushrooms.

The project will be implemented in three phases, with 100 schools with 9,360 students in one block involved in the first phase. In the second phase, it will be expanded to 800 schools in eight blocks, and subsequently, the entire district (2,28,170 school-going children) will be covered.

According to district authorities, each SHG is expected to earn more than Rs 1.13 lakh per month in the first phase of the project, with each member earning a profit of around Rs 4,000 per month. “In the face of the pandemic, the funds towards the project are being processed under the conversion cost of mid-day meal. In this regard, school headmasters are also in communication with the women of the SHGs producing the mushrooms. A dedicated mushroom shop has been established in Vikas Bhawan, where SHG members are selling their produce. Schools are also linking parents with SHG members and are advising parents to buy mushrooms from SHG members to meet the nutrient requirements of children. SHG members are also selling their produce to the FPC and in the open market,” said Shivsharnappa.

Deoria’s journey to becoming the hub of oyster mushroom production started about a year and a half back when, troubled by the low sale of his mushrooms, a farmer reached out to the district administration for help. District Magistrate (DM) Amit Kishore helped the farmer get in touch with others involved in mushroom cultivation.

“I started mushroom cultivation in mid-2018 as it did not have much competition. However, in the absence of a proper market, most of my produce was going waste. Frustrated, in 2019 I went to a ‘Janta Darbar’ and asked the district administration to help me sell my crop. From there, I was helped to get in touch with people involved in mushroom cultivation. In the last one-and-a-half years, my request to start supplying oyster mushrooms to the police mess, the Kasturba Gandhi Balika

Inter College, and the district prison have already been accepted,” said Swatantra Singh, who has now been declared a “progressive” mushroom farmer.

Kishore said around the time Singh reached out for help, he was asked to start training women and SHGs about the methods to cultivate the crop. So far, in addition to around 300 local farmers, women and disabled people, Singh claims to have provided free training to people in neighbouring districts such as Sonbhadra, Prayagraj, Varanasi and Ghazipur.

“The oyster mushrooms that we grow here are nutrient-rich and the easiest to grow. The seeds are mixed with wet straw, sawdust or stubble, and placed in bags with small holes, or air filters, in them to allow air exchange. The bags are then placed in a warm dark room for incubation. In just 60 days, an outlay of around Rs 500 will give a return of around Rs 1,500. It is easy to grow, and the produce is good without any fertiliser,” said Singh.

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