November 21, 2008 12:29:03 am
Ritamoni Deuri of Jalukbari village gave up studies in Class IX and took to weaving to support her father who has only 1.5 katha of land to call his own. While she can take only half of the mekhelas and chadars that she weaves as the yarn is provided by better-off families, the family also has 28 betel nut and three coconut palm trees to supplement its income. A roadside vegetable stall run by her father at times also comes to their aid.
Thus, when a team of volunteers from Mushroom Development Foundation (MDF) of Guwahati arrived in Sonapur about two years ago, people like Deuri grabbed the opportunity with both hands. “We had no idea that mushrooms could be cultivated. All we knew was that people have sometimes died after consuming mushrooms in Upper Assam,” she said.
Two years later, a vigorous campaign mounted by MDF has about 1,000 families of around 50 villages in and around Sonapur are happily growing mushrooms. “Our family income has already gone up by about Rs 2,000 per month,” said Ritamoni, with Anamika Boro of Ural village, Pratima Kathar of Morokdola village and Gojin Teron of Morongabari village also relating similar experiences with pride.
Sonapur is just about 20 km east of Guwahati and is literally part of the Assam capital because it comes under Kamrup (Metro) district as well as under the Guwahati City police district.
“What is most interesting is that Sonapur is a huge cluster of villages on which Guwahati is heavily dependent. Sonapur, if properly groomed, will be able to provide a wide variety of items to the state capital, ranging from mushrooms to skilled manpower,” points out Biman Patowari, who teaches geography in the Sonapur College, where over 80 per cent of the students come from poor and marginal tribal families.
MDF, meanwhile, has built up its own mechanism to provide the vital marketing linkage to the Sonapur growers to sell their produce. “Since Guwahati is a huge market, most of the mushrooms produced in Sonapur are sold in the city,” said Pranjal Baruah, an Ashoka Fellow, who is also the general secretary of the Mushroom Development Foundation. “We have set a modest target of production of five kilos of mushrooms for each family. Even if we are able to increase the monthly income by even Rs 3,000 for each of the 200 families who have taken to commercial growing of mushrooms, it will be a big achievement,” added Baruah.
The MDF is also popularising mushrooms among people who have never tasted it. “We are using our personal contacts to introduce mushrooms in wedding receptions and other parties. One out of ten such parties have already begun to serve its dishes,” he said.
Within Sonapur, the MDF has also taken up an interesting campaign to attract more villagers towards mushroom cultivation. The Sonapur Anchalik Kathfula Krishi Samiti has put up a board with comics and cartoons illustrating their messages in Sonapur’s weekly haat held every Saturday. “Three of our local boys were sent to Don Bosco Institute in Guwahati for a four-day workshop on cartoons and illustrations, and they are carrying out this campaign on our behalf,” said Prasanna Daimari, director of the Samiti. And to drive home the message further, the Samiti has now planned to provide half a kg of mushrooms free to the stall at the haat where villagers have their meals.
The MDF is also looking at taking up a few more schemes for skill development of the local population. “Sonapur can provide a large number of plumbers, mechanics, masons, carpenters and electricians to the city. We are looking for partners to provide such skills to the village youth,” said Pranjal Baruah.
Sonapur College, too, is exploring this aspect. “We are examining the scope for establishing a resource centre that would look into various aspects of the capital city’s interdependence on the rural areas situated on its fringes,” said Bipul Bora, the principal of the college.
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