I had the opportunity to visit Namakkal for a field visit last weekend. We were visiting the Mushroom farmers whom we had supported through our Mushroom Fund with the intervention of our Impact Partner - Mission Samriddhi.
In the faraway hills of Namakkal, a quiet revolution is mushrooming, quite literally!
Spearheaded by Arul Thomas, the Mushroom Project is a beacon of hope and prosperity for the local farming community. His innovative initiative tied with Mission Samriddhi’s hand holding aims at inculcating mushroom cultivation amongst farmers as an additional source of revenue, ensuring a steady income in a state where agrarian crises are not uncommon.
The seeds of this project were sown by Arul Thomas, a seasoned entrepreneur hailing from Kalayarkovil, Sivagangai. With over 14 years of experience in the mushroom domain, Arul has fostered a mushroom spawn lab and a training school at his residence.
He also owns two restaurants at Kalayarkovil and Namakkal, showcasing a range of mushroom-derived delicacies. His engagement with mushrooms extends to a plethora of value-added products, making him a true mushroom maestro.
The initiative was presented to Mission Samriddhi in 2019, but due to the unforeseen Covid-19 outbreak, the implementation witnessed a hiatus.
However, undeterred by the delay, the project is now on its pilot run in Namakkal, with plans of replicating the model across other districts in Tamil Nadu.
A Three-Pronged Approach
1. Mushroom Shed Construction:
Under the aegis of a Government scheme in Tamil Nadu, select farmers are subsidised for constructing a mushroom shed - the mushroom spawn needs hot and humid environment to grow. Post construction, a hefty subsidy amount finds its way to the beneficiary's account, easing the financial burden and kickstarting the cultivation journey.
2. Mushroom Cultivation:
Arul takes it upon himself to set up a centralised bed-making unit, providing farmers with mushroom beds at an affordable price. He doesn’t just stop at providing the resources; a comprehensive training program ensures that the farmers are well-equipped to nurture the mushrooms to fruition.
3. Mushroom Marketing:
The marketing matrix, designed by Arul, encompasses wholesale, retail channels, and direct sales through his restaurants. Farmers are assured a farmgate price of Rs. 170/kg, a fair price that ensures their toil translates to tangible gains.
The Milky Mushroom Magic
The choice of mushroom is as unique as the project itself. Milky mushrooms, native to the hot and humid climate of India, are known for their high nutritional value and longer shelf life. They thrive in the local climate, making them a viable and lucrative choice for cultivation unlike the button mushrooms which have high moisture and low shelf life.
The market for Milky Mushroom is burgeoning not just in Tamil Nadu but extends to neighbouring states and even countries like the US, UK, and Singapore. The mushroom's unique taste and health benefits have spurred a steady demand, making it a hot commodity in local markets, supermarkets, and online platforms.
A Glimpse into the Financial Framework
The Rang De mushroom fund encapsulates various financial facets including loans for mushroom shed construction, working capital for farmers, and setup costs for the bed unit and spawn lab. The meticulous financial planning ensures the sustainability and scalability of the project. Rang De Social Investors enable affordable loans to farmers who seek working capital and one time investment to set up the sheds.
Until now, 2000+ social Investors have invested a capital of Rs 1.3 crores supporting 67 farmers in Namakkal.
Like any agrarian venture, the Mushroom project too has its share of risks ranging from production, market dynamics to regulatory compliance. However, the project’s design, rooted in training, support, and a structured marketing strategy, aims at mitigating these risks, paving the path for a sustainable mushroom cultivation ecosystem.
The Mushroom Project is not just a business venture, but a socio-economic catalyst, orchestrated by Arul Thomas. His foresightedness, coupled with an unyielding commitment to his community, is fostering a new era of agricultural entrepreneurship in Tamil Nadu.
Through this initiative, Arul Thomas is not just cultivating mushrooms, but sowing the seeds of self-sufficiency and prosperity among the farmers of Namakkal. His endeavour exemplifies how innovative, localised solutions can transcend challenges, turning the tide of fortune in favour of the hardworking farmers.