Mushrooms for prosperity in Chin State
A mushroom research and training programme in Myanmar is aiming to lift farmers out of poverty, improve their diets and slow outward migration.
Researchers from the Centre for Mountain Futures, a joint lab with World Agroforestry’s East and Central Asia Regional Programme and the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), recently facilitated a series of mushroom-cultivation training workshops in Chin State, Myanmar. The workshops emerged from an World Agroforestry and KIB project conducted in the Chin and Shan states in 2016: Agroforestry Alternatives to Shifting Cultivation.
Extensive surveys undertaken during that project confirmed the need in rural Myanmar for sustainable incomes. Certain biodegrading mushroom species were identified as one way of simultaneously lifting rural communities out of poverty while also providing nutrition to local communities and restoring ecosystems.
The environmental conditions of Chin State make it ideal for growing many lucrative varieties of mushrooms and its communities are in dire need of novel means of generating income. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Chin State is one of the least-developed areas of Myanmar: 73% of its population fall below the poverty line and school and healthcare facilities are largely inadequate.1A lack of income sources for families and insufficient food have forced many people to migrate to other parts of Myanmar and abroad. Of the farmers who remain, many find it difficult to sustain themselves for even half a year through their own staple food production.
As a result, most subsistence farmers (who constitute the majority of the population) in Chin State depend on forest products either for direct consumption or as alternative income sources. However, the methods used in harvesting forest products are not sustainable: they have led to dramatic decreases in the availability of forest products as well as rapid deforestation and loss of species.
Mushroom cultivation was selected as a means of providing alleviating poverty; providing employment; and as sources of non-animal protein and nutraceuticals throughout the year.
‘The long-term goal is to establish a central facility to produce the materials required for cultivation,’ said Peter Mortimer, KIB project leader and former World Agroforestry researcher with the East and Central Asia Regional Programme, ‘and households who will produce, consume, and sell the mushrooms and, in the process, develop the value chains and thus provide access to larger, more distant markets.’
The training, which focused on cultivation techniques of two species of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatusand Pleurotus eryngii, was conducted in two townships, Tonzang and Tuivial. Previous market and social surveys conducted by the team had shown that oyster mushroomspecies were popular in Myanmar, making them an ideal choice for introduction into local and national markets. In addition, Pleurotusspecies can easily be cultivated on agricultural waste, including woodchips, straw, corncobs and rice bran, all of which are freely available in Chin State.
Both training programmes began with lectures to introduce mushrooms and mushroom cultivation, including how to avoid poisoning. On the first day, the researchers led practical sessions on how to prepare growing media; pack the media into bags; and sterilization of the packed bags. On the second day, participants were taught how to inoculate the bags and maintain them inside a growing house. The training sessions are the first in a series. Follow-up workshops will take place later in May, July and September.
The trainers actively encouraged female participation in order to improve gender imbalances in the region.
‘This is a unique opportunity to apply what we have learnt elsewhere in the region regarding the village-level cultivation of mushrooms,’ said Mortimer, ‘and to ensure that we are not simply transferring knowledge to a select group of males but rather to a diverse group of men and women who will then become knowledge-producers driving their local economies.’
World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.