Donning double role of homemakers and entrepreneurs

Smiles and gestures reflected the inner confidence and each word carried hope with it. Evidently, Mahija and Thara were in high spirits. Reason: the duo along with their neighbour Neethu are set to start an oyster mushroom production unit. 

For making their entrepreneurial dream a reality, the trio pooled the monetary support of INR 15000 extended to each of them by IGSSS. Thus, the homemakers gathered a sum of INR 45000 to meet the initial investment for their venture. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with male workers, they also erected a polythene shed, the basic requirement for the unit.

“IGSSS provided us the money and organised a good training on mushroom cultivation. The trainer, an experienced person in mushroom production, gave us clear guidance. We are getting good support from the agricultural officials and the neighbours. It’s like a joint effort now and this is boosting our morale,” Mahija said.

In addition to monetary support and training programme, IGSSS also arranged a visit to a mushroom unit to help the trio understand nuances of production and marketing. To put it in Mahija’s words, “I became more eager to go ahead with the production after that visit.”

Prior to the initiation of commercial production, the trio had done a trial and it turned out to be successful. “A dark room is mandatory for mushroom production. There’s an abandoned house in the neighbourhood and we used the bathroom of that house as a dark room. We did the trial with one packet of spawn. I felt real happiness from inside when mushrooms started to sprout,” Tara said.

Exuding confidence, the women said that they have done enough ground work for marketing. “One shop owner from Thirunelly has already agreed to procure mushrooms from us. Employees of few banks have also shown interest to buy home-made mushrooms. We are trying to build up our market base. People have a great craving for mushrooms and we are really hopeful about the business,” they said.

Of late, oyster mushroom production has been gaining popularity as an alternative income generation method among the people of hilly districts of Kerala. Low investment cost, less labour requirement, good price and high demand are wooing traditional farmers to mushroom cultivation.

Following statement of Tara acknowledges these facts: “as per my understanding mushroom production is less laborious and more profitable. After readying the beds with the spawns, we just need to keep it in a dark room for about two weeks. In the following week, the beds need to be watered twice or thrice a day. Usually, by third week mushrooms can be harvested,” she said.

According to Sruthi, assistant professor at Krishi Vigyan Kendra Wayanad, present market price of 1 kg of mushroom is INR 300 per kg. “Mushroom production is highly profitable, particularly while comparing with other agricultural produces. The best thing is that there will be more than enough takers for the product once it reaches the market. Value-added products like mushroom pickle, powder and cutlet also have good demand,” the assistant professor, who is specialised in mushroom production, said.

At the time of writing, the mushroom beds were safe in the dark room made in the backyard of Mahija’s house. If all goes well, the homemakers will make their first sale within three weeks. Thus, their silent wish to earn some money of their own will become a reality. It’s a truth that financial independence can bring sea change in a woman’s life. It empowers her and ensures a better space for her in the family and society.  And no need to mention, it is a key step towards narrowing the gap of gender inequalities.