Mushroom cultivation is one of the important emerging sectors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a demand driven sector in the modern age and has become the source of income to many people. Mushroom belongs to the kingdom fungi and is edible, consumed and cultivated all over the globe for its delicious taste, high nutritional and medicinal values. It is rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins and fibre but low in calories. It has antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. About one and half decade ago, mushroom cultivation was nowhere in Kashmir valley however, mushrooms like white Button mushroom, Morchella (Gucchi) had been collected by people living in hilly forest areas and they generally consume mushrooms for themselves and at times, they sold and fetch some money but in plain areas, people also searched and collected mushrooms in fields, banks of canals, streams, dead stumps of trees, etc. that were latter cooked as vegetables. Due to new research and developments in science and technology, scientists’ and researchers have developed new and innovative methods of cultivation in agriculture and one such method of cultivation in agriculture is the mushroom cultivation. The Kashmir valley has very suitable climatic conditions for the growth of mushroom cultivation. Its rich agricultural wastes, cheap labour, markets and abundance of fungal diversity craved attention of the government and agricultural department from time to time towards mushroom cultivation. The department of agriculture with full support of the government introduced mushroom cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir a decade ago. Mushroom cultivation is very simple, cheap, environment friendly and economically more rewarding. It needs little investment and a small space to start up a unit. It has the potential to absorb a good number of unemployed youth. There are many edible mushroom species in India. The three common edible mushroom species are white Button mushroom, paddy straw mushroom and oyster mushroom. These species are generally cultivated in India. The white button mushroom species is the most cultivated mushroom species in India and the Jammu and Kashmir due to many reasons, particularly easy to grow, more yielding, easily adaptable, resistant to diseases and short life cycle. White button mushrooms are grown in Jammu and Kashmir under a controlled atmosphere as well as natural system as they are temperature and humidity dependent. Morchella (Gucchi) also belongs to kingdom fungi and grows in wilderness. It thrives very well at higher altitudes in Jammu and Kashmir particularly in deodar and pine forests. It grows mostly in forest ranges of Budgam, Anantnag, Kulgam, kupwara, kangan, Doda, kishtwar etc. Morchella is a very costly mushroom and sells at rupees 4000 per kg. Although it is a very costly mushroom, it cannot be cultivated very easily due to its sensitivity and adaptations in a particular natural environment. Many researchers’ and agricultural scientists had tried very hard to grow Morchella on a demarcated particular land but failed to cultivate it despite providing all the favourable conditions. Researchers’ and scientists are making great efforts to develop its spores so that people can cultivate it artificially like white button mushrooms for their welfare. The Principal DIET Beerwah Mr. Bashir Ahmad Ganaie nicknamed as Bashir Botany says that providing natural conditions and suitable habitat to the seeds of Morchella in upper forest ranges can yield very better results. He says that Morchella cultivation in plain areas is very difficult due to its sensitiveness and adaptation problem; however, in pine and deodar forests of upper ranges, they can thrive very well.
For the past many years, The Jammu and Kashmir agricultural department is working tirelessly to promote mushroom cultivation on a larger scale and they want to involve more youth in this sector in view of rising unemployment rate in the Kashmir valley. The department is providing all kinds of support, guidance and cooperation to the growers. They are providing compost, quality seeds, and various equipments’ on very subsidized rates besides they are providing necessary instructions, training and technical help to the mushroom growers about mushroom collection and processing techniques , market knowledge and market help for their successful business venture. Awareness programs and training by the agriculture department among people about mushroom collection and processing techniques have lured many educated youth who are reaping the sweet fruits of mushroom cultivation in the form of employment and harvesting of good amounts. Despite tremendous scope for mushroom cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir, very less number of educated youth are coming towards mushroom sector and majority of youth staying in their cosy rooms waiting for government jobs for many years. The Jammu and Kashmir government cannot provide jobs to every educated youth due to limited vacancies. It is high time for the educated youth to stop waiting for white-collar jobs for years and start their own business ventures for their prosperous and bright future. Many educated youth in Kashmir valley have set examples for others like Nissar Ahmad parra, a highly qualified educated youth from Larkipora village of Karhama Tangmarg who received training, counselling and guidance from the experts particularly Mushroom development officer Budgam Tasaduq chasti and Plant Protection Scientist Dr. Waseema. A local progressive farmer namely Gowhar Ali from Kunchpora Tangmarg (recipient of state award and national award in mushroom cultivation) also guided Nissar very well. Nissar says he has set mushroom cultivation units at his home with the good subsidy from the agricultural department. The department provided him seeds, compost, envelopes and technical help for his successful mushroom cultivation. Nissar claims that he earns a good amount from mushroom cultivation annually. It is pertinent to mention that Nisar Ahmad is also a successful beekeeper who is selling pure honey under the brand name Tosamaidan honey. Many educated youth have left private and even some government jobs and become job providers instead of job seekers due to the setting of mushroom units. Many young women are also at the forefront and started mushroom cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir under the National Rural Livelihood Mission scheme that made their future very bright and successful. Despite all the facilities available, the mushroom industry in Jammu and Kashmir is still at infancy stage. Lack of awareness and education among the people about mushroom cultivation, lack of technical knowhow and unawareness of government schemes available for mushroom cultivation are the few reasons. There is a need for general awareness and education among educated youth besides quality research in economics of mushroom cultivation due to its growing demand in contemporary times. The demand for organic foods in the present time is increasing due to sedentary lifestyles. Sedentary lifestyles and eating of high calories diets have given rise to many diseases to people. Switching over to organic foods like organic mushrooms can boost mushroom cultivation, economy of people and government; provide employment to unemployed youth and goodbye many lifestyle diseases as well.
(The views, opinions, facts, figures, assumptions, presumptions and conclusions expressed in this article are author’s own and aren’t necessarily in accord with the views of “Kashmir Horizon. The author is a teacher at Govt Boys Higher Secondary School Beerwah.)