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The rural economy has been badly hit, especially in the second wave of the coronavirus. Due to frequent lockdown & weekly shutdown, local industries in nearby towns and cities that employed the villagers are starting to shut down again. This coupled with the lack of demand in the market owing to reduced disposable income, social distancing norms and a general sense of fear has led to a slower recovery as well. The hilly tribal villages in the rural heartland of Southern Odisha follow no different pattern. Agriculture is the major source of income in the region and many also depend on migrant labour and selling non-timber forest products (NTFP). The demand of the latter two has shrunk tremendously since the break of the second wave. Agriculture which proved to be somewhat of a Teflon industry previously is also affected this time. To compensate for the economic loss, Harsha Trust is promoting high-value non-traditional farming activities amongst the rural communities in four districts of Southern Odisha.

The case of Maa Tarini SHG

Puluguda is one such village in the Bissamcuttack block of Rayagada that depends on agriculture. Due to frequent shutdowns and lockdowns, its residents are facing difficulties selling their produce in the nearby markets. The 13 members of MaaTarini SHG turned to mushroom cultivation as an alternate source of income to compensate for the loss of livelihood. Harsha Trust facilitated financial assistance of Rs. 10,000 to the members through Maa Tara Tarini Producer Group to kick start the venture. The Group used that amount along with some extra cash drawn from their SHG savings to prepare a makeshift greenhouse shed, purchased a straw cutter machine to prepare straw for the mushroom beds, plastic bags to store the beds and other inputs like seedlings, wheat and bavistin.

The members of the SHG laid the first beds in March. They collected paddy straw from the fields which they would have otherwise burnt post-harvest and cut the straw with the straw cutter into smaller pieces. The straw was used to prepare beds for the mushroom seedlings. They spread 4 to 5 layers of spawn with bavistin and wheat to supplement the growth in each bed and 150 such beds were made in the first phase. The first batch was harvested within 15 days of laying the beds during mid April. On an average, each bed yielded 550 GMS of mushrooms. The group sold the product at RS. 150/ KG. Instead of selling their produce at the town haats, they focused on their village and nearby areas. The group did business of Rs. 10,500 within the first fortnight of starting the venture. Within a month they broke even and earn a profit of Rs. 10,000. Now they have laid down another layer of beds.

Changing Food Habits to Ensure Nutritional Security

The tribal communities usually consume a combination of rice or millet and pulses as part of their major meals. The lack of vegetable consumption coupled with their rigorous work schedule takes a toll on their bodies. The introduction of mushrooms to the daily diet of these communities can help counter nutritional deficiency to some degree. Mushrooms contain proteins, vitamins and antioxidants that are vital for child growth and pregnant women.

Estimated Expenses
1SHED NET100 SQ. MT.RS.2500

Many rural farming communities in India are under the threat of losing their livelihood due to the pandemic induced lockdowns. To secure their livelihood, one has to venture into alternative farming models to compensate for the loss incurred. Village level institutions can be encouraged to take up mushroom cultivation as alternate low-cost farming models to generate additional income. Harsha Trust has actively worked towards ensuring livelihood security in the rural heartlands of Odisha. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have tried to find sustainable alternate farming models that have higher potential than traditional farming models to help people compensate for the livelihood lost to the economic impacts of the pandemic. We have supported 70 SHGs to take up mushroom cultivation helping 743 members and their families across 7 blocks of South-Western Odisha to secure a steady source of income when other options seemed bleak. We also expect this will help introduce mushrooms which are high in multivitamins and minerals to their daily diet by making them more accessible to counter the problem of malnutrition in rural Odisha simultaneously.

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