A smile appears on Ms. Vieng’s face as she shows off an oyster mushroom fruiting body. She learned how to prepare the mushroom after participating in an on-the-job training program on mushroom cultivation in her village of Huayman in Laos PDR.
Ms. Vieng, 32, can now proudly say that she is a mushroom farmer.
Together with three other local groups, she and other Huayman villagers joined the cultivation group during its first stage in October 2014. They learned how to prepare raw material under the guidance of the nearby Nambor Technical Service Center and a national expert. It didn’t take long for Ms. Vieng to see the benefits of this knowledge and be motivated to take advantage of this new opportunity.
Farmers in the area have a long tradition of collecting wild mushrooms for consumption, but they knew little about how to cultivate them. The Nambor Technical Service Center organized a study trip for the newly formed mushroom groups to learn from two other successful mushroom farmers in Luang Prabang. They quickly realized that oyster mushrooms are easily sold in the local markets at a price of 20-25,000 Kip (around US$3) per kg.
When the Technical Service Center facilitators, in partnership with Ms. Viengkham, an expert from the Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, suggested offering training to the villagers to cultivate oyster mushrooms, they all agreed.
The Mushroom Cultivation initiative is supported by the Agro-Biodiversity Project (ABP), funded by GEF and UNDP with technical supported from FAO. The ABP paid for initial production costs, with growers providing labor and local materials (firewood and wood materials for the growing houses).
Sawdust is mixed with lime and water and stored for one month, before other materials are added. After bagging and steam-sterilizing in oil drums, oyster mushroom spawn are inserted. The bags are then left for a month before moving to the growing houses for the final stages.
Now a year after joining the group, Ms. Vieng is pleased with the developments. As a result of the training, her group has produced 1.5 tons of oyster mushrooms and she spends less time in surrounding forests areas looking foraging food. The group has sold mushrooms totaling 20 million kip (US$2,500), of which 60 percent is deposited in a local bank. Part of the profit is used by individual members, while the rest is saved for the next production.
Ms. Vieng’s group has prepared the second round of mushroom bags and begun to harvest fruiting bodies. This time the villagers are paying most of the production costs, but still each member is expected to earn two million kip (US$250).
Although the oyster mushroom is an easy species to cultivate, avoiding contamination requires attention at every step of the process, from sterilization of bagged raw material and inoculation to keeping the mushroom-growing houses clean. This is also the key message that Ms. Viengkham repeats at her regular visits to the four villages.
“ Huayman village performs well, because the people understood the simple sanitary rules, like how to maintain optimal humidity through regular watering in the growing house. This has been key to success for the Huayman families, Ms. Viengkham says. “They were also very dedicated and interested and there is good solidarity within the group. They even constructed a new growing house from their savings.”
The oyster mushroom cultivation groups have sparked interest and motivation of other villagers in the area. Mr. Hounpheng is a farmer that lives in Panma village, around 18 kilometers from the Nambor Technical Service Center.
“When I learned about the groups, I asked the organizers to let me join and attend one training session and now I know how to cultivate them” he said, although he still needs money to buy equipment and a proper place to cultivate the mushrooms. “I would like to have a group organized in my village.” he commented.
The mushroom cultivation groups will have a third harvest in 2016, after which they are expected to fully produce themselves, without technical assistance from Ms. Viengkham.
Ms. Vieng feels that oyster mushroom cultivation has helped her and also inspired her to expand. “I want to continue in the group,” she says, smiling. “And from the earnings, I also want to raise livestock.”