SAHIWAL: A global trend in agriculture has been a shift away from simple systems that rely on traditional crops, to those that increasingly seek new varieties of plants that cater to advanced dietary needs. To this end, scientists and growers have recommended several new crops that can augment the spectrum of agricultural produce.
Mushrooms, known locally as “khumbi”, are among this emerging cropping system. Mushrooms are essentially fungi, a group of organisms distinct from plants, animals and bacteria. They convert inedible plant waste into palatable food, which is savoured due to its biting texture and flavour. They form a complete diet as mushrooms contain essential vitamins and minerals, and are the best substitute for protein. They also contain traces of carbohydrates and fat.
Dr Amjad Farooq works as an assistant professor at the Department of Horticulture of the PMAS-Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi. He explains that, according to estimates, there are more than 1,500 types of mushrooms found on planet earth – some of them are edible, but others are poisonous. The four most popular types are the button or European mushroom, the Japanese mushroom, the Chinese mushroom and the oyster mushroom. The best quality mushrooms available in Pakistan are the oyster mushroom, the white mushroom, the golden oyster mushroom, the phoenix (grey) oyster mushroom and the pink oyster mushroom. These strains grow all over the country, and are available usually after the monsoon season.
Mushrooms can be cultivated between October and March. Cultivation does not require land and can be grown in small houses and huts as a part-time activity. Mushroom cultivation does not require full time-labour, and all family members can look after different operations easily. There are two modes of propagation for a mushroom crop: open-air field cultivation and controlled cultivation.
After seven days of cultivation, small pin-like heads emerge from the mushroom, which turn into more mushrooms after three to five days. Branches which grow five to seven inches long, called flushes, are removed from the plants and dried. These can be used in cooking, or can be sold in the market. Flushes keep regenerating from the plant after every ten days of the removal of old ones: the cycle is very short, and as a result, highly productive.
“A single flush or branch of mushroom can yield more than half a kilogramme (kg) of edible food after each week for three months,” says Dr Muhammad Nadeem, from the Institute of Horticultural Sciences, University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF).
Thus, 100 beds of mushroom can yield more than 120kg of mushrooms a week. At the rate of Rs150 per kg, they can generate a lump sum profit of Rs18,000 a week, or Rs72,000 in a month. Dr Nadeem says the “production of mushrooms touches approximately 1.5 million tons in the world, while about 90 tons of mushrooms are exported to Europe from Pakistan every year.”
Oyster mushrooms currently sell for around $6 a pound in the US. A growing area of around 200 square feet can produce 800 pounds per crop; or 5,000 pounds of mushrooms per year. This is worth almost $30,000 at current prices. It’s clear that growing oyster mushrooms for profit is a great way to make some extra cash.
However, it should be kept in mind that, given the large variety of poisonous strains of mushrooms, spawn should be developed only under the supervision of experts. It is available at the UAF, the National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, the Ayub Agricultural Research Institute and other government research stations.
Farmers who wish to cultivate mushrooms should book spawn well before the cultivation season, because it may not be readily available during the peak demand period. The UAF laboratory has developed some thermo-tolerant strains of the most widely grown button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) and the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus cystidiosus).
As basic training is required for profitable mushroom cultivation, the Continuing Education Department of the UAF offers a short course suited for farmers. Furthermore, the UAF’s Mushroom Lab can be contacted for guidance and information, and it can give proper suggestions and recommendations to those willing to invest in this lucrative business.
ZEESHAN FARID IS A RECLAMATION OFFICER WITH A MASTERS DEGREE IN AGRICULTURE. DR AMJAD FAROOQ IS AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT THE PMAS-ARID AGRICULTURE UNIVERSITY