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How Mushroom Farming Became a Thriving Agribusiness in Nepal

New farming techniques and technical training help drive substantial agricultural growth

Like many Nepali women, Usha Acharya started a mushroom farming business to generate extra income and provide a more balanced diet for her family. After a motorbike accident left Acharya with ongoing medical expenses, she needed a way to scale her modest operation.

She knew the opportunity was there. Agriculture is one of Nepal’s largest industries, with mushrooms among its fastest-growing sectors. But like countless small-scale farmers, Acharya lacked the training and resources needed to grow her business and maximize her potential.

“Even though I had taken general training on mushroom farming, I didn’t have technical knowledge,” Acharya said. “I didn’t know about the quality of mushroom seed, or various fungal diseases and how to treat them.”

Image credit: Bisho Adhikari and Swesha Adhikari

A nascent industry

In Nepal, mushrooms are popular in local diets, commonly foraged in the forest during the rainy season. But as a commercial crop, they’ve only been cultivated for a few decades. Today, mushrooms are popular among low- and middle-income households, who refer to them colloquially as “vegetable meat,” an affordable and nutritious source of fiber, minerals and vitamins. As a crop, they’re favored by farmers due to their quick return on investment and ability to grow in small spaces.

But while demand for mushrooms continues to grow rapidly, production practices have struggled to keep pace. One of the biggest challenges facing Nepal’s nascent mushroom industry is spawn contamination caused by improper handling, poor inventory management, and inaccurate measurement. Rising temperatures caused by climate change present an additional hurdle in maintaining ideal mushroom growing conditions.

Contaminated spawn has a devastating impact on crop yields, which in turn leads to large financial losses for farmers. To mitigate these impacts and bolster resilience in the developing world, Feed the Future supports farmers like Acharya, working with partners on the ground to provide smallholders with the tools and knowledge to feed their families and scale their enterprises.

Sharing technical knowledge

Hoping to scale her enterprise while ensuring a high-quality product, Acharya sought the help of her local agricultural co-op. Through Farmer-To-Farmer, a USAID-funded initiative that connects American volunteers with agricultural expertise with local communities, the co-op organized a series of trainings with the help of renowned Duke University mycologist Dr. Henry Van Cotter.

As a Farmer-To-Farmer volunteer, Dr. Cotter traveled to Nepal to teach Acharya and other local farmers proper mushroom production techniques. Acharya learned how to use a specialized tool to sterilize her spawn growing material, how to maintain inventory records, and other best practices.

“When you have inspired entrepreneurs and farmers, if you can help them work through the obstacles they’re facing and get them over that initial hurdle, then things can really move forward,” Dr. Cotter said. “They just take off with their entrepreneurial spirit.”

Image credit: Bisho Adhikari and Swesha Adhikari

Thanks to the training she received, Acharya has become a leader in her community. Through the success of her enterprise, she’s able to not only support her family, but also provide vital help to other smallholder farmers. Today, her company focuses primarily on producing high-quality spawn for local mushroom farmers. So far, Acharya has supplied 35,000 packets of spawn to 3,500 farmers, generating a potential yield of 7 million mushrooms. The local government recently recognized Acharya with an award for her vital contributions to local mushroom production.

“This program has benefited not only me and my family, but our local community. In learning how to carry out mushroom farming commercially and sharing the skills we’ve learned, we’ve become self-employed and have been able to generate employment for others,” Acharya said.



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