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Farming mushrooms for education: A poignant tale of three girls in Patna

Nothing in life comes easy, least of all an education. For Shweta Kumari from Patna, Bihar, the path to financing her own education led her to mushroom farming.

Joining her in the famed trio of ‘Mushroom girls of Patna’ are Babita and Jyoti, hailing from Kurkuri and Bahadurpur villages respectively. These three girls have shown the way to countless others around them, of how hard work can pave the way to your dreams despite obstacles. From the income generated from mushroom farming, they have been able to support their families and even complete their higher education.

Along with 43 other trained adolescent mushroom growers, these three girls have set a new trend by becoming budding entrepreneurs in their villages. They cultivate large, nutritious oyster mushrooms in their homes and supply it to clients and nearby markets.

Their desire was to pursue higher education and become educated members in their villages, but economic condition of their respective families played a big hurdle on the way, but they didn’t give it up. Their inability to venture out of the village for more lucrative jobs made them opt for this innovative mushroom cultivation in their homes.

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) Lehar project, which was launched in Patna in 2015, opened many market-oriented options for the villagers such as tailoring, computers, retail and hospitality business. The project was launched to empower and improve the quality of life of 5,500 adolescent girls of 14 to 19 years. Later, Bandana Skill Development Centre stepped in to provide training and develop linkages with the business world.

Some girls, who were trained for mushroom cultivation, continued the seasonal work and supported their families with amounts varying from INR 1,000 to INR 3,000.

Babita Kumari, who could not continue her higher studies after completing intermediate, is doing mushroom cultivation and helping her family.

“Mushroom cultivation needs very little investment — about INR 150 for husk, some spawn and bags to hang the husk,” she said, adding, “In 20 to 25 days, some 20 kg of mushroom can be harvested. With control of temperature and moisture, oyster mushrooms can be grown round the year though the best season for cultivation is September/October and March/April.”

She has cultivated mushrooms in batches of 20 kg and sells them at INR150 per kg. Her younger brother helps her in marketing the mushrooms.

Shweta, too, has shown tremendous gumption in the face of adversities. Her father is a farmer and a heart patient and her mother supplements the family income by stitching clothes.

Taking keen interest to support the family, Shweta showed interest in learning mushroom cultivation. After two days training and two months of hand holding by AKF, Shweta got into mushroom cultivation. With the income generated from mushroom farming, she has financed her education and completed graduation.

Even after marriage, she continues her studies and is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Library Science. With the support of her in-laws, she has carried on with mushroom cultivation too, and continues to generate additional income for her family.

“Mushroom cultivation has been a constant support to me and has helped me realize my dreams,” Shweta said.

Jyoti, another young entrepreneur in the village and a final year BA student, was among the first batch of 11 girls trained in mushroom cultivation. Mushrooms were not only the source of income for the family, it has added nutrition to the family diet as well.

“Mushroom cultivation can be started with the small capital, it requires little space and you can harvest the mushrooms within 30 to 45 days after cultivation,” Jyoti said.

Mushrooms have changed the lives and economic conditions of these girls in these villages of Bihar and they have become an example for many girls in India who are struggling to find out a way to fund their education.

Manmath Nayak

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