Mushroom-growing Elm trees can empower Barot village communities

Small innovations often occur at the grassroot level, and these may hold clues for local and regional-level solutions

By Deepika Thakur , Alpy Sharma , Sanjay Kr. Uniyal
Published: Friday 11 January 2019
Loaded elm logs

The concept of CILLAGE or city in a village and empowerment of rural communities has stuck the right chord with a focus on inclusive development.  

Small innovations often occur at the grassroot level, and these may hold clues for local and regional-level solutions. Thus, observing and documenting innovations at local levels and the associated knowledge can be crucial.

During our recent visit to Barot Valley of Himachal Pradesh, we had a first-hand experience of targeted recording of traditional conservation practices and resource use.

Narrow mountainous roads winding through beautiful conifer forests with a breath taking view of Himalaya welcome you to Barot. Nestled in the lap of Dhauladhar mountains at an altitude of 1,900 metres, Barot is frequently referred as “Himalayan paradise”, “beautiful landscape” and “trekkers heaven”.

The Uhl river is famous for the Hydel power project constructed by the Britishers and the trout fish. Climate in the valley is cool with heavy snowfall during winters. Along the valley, the landscape is dotted by small villages with wooden houses, typically made out of Cedrus deodara and Piceas mithiana.

This land is home to the Bhangalis—an agro pastoral community. Quality potatoes, kidney beans and trout farms are the hallmark of the area. Recently cultivation of cabbage and cauliflowers has also come up in a big way.

In the midst of the scenic beauty, a woman selling oyster mushrooms caught our attention. It was surprising since no one, during our household surveys, talked about growing mushrooms and we did not find anyone else selling it.

So we asked the woman—55-year-old Chamu Devi from Bhujling village—to sit with us and share her story. She recalled that as a child, during the rainy season, she would accompany her parents and grandparents to search for Elm (locally called maraal).

Elm, botanically known as Ulmus wallichaiana, is a native deciduous tree species that is distributed across the western Himalayas and belongs to the Ulmaceae family.

The characteristic greyish-brown bark with longitudinal furrows make the tree easily identifiable. This species can be utilised for a variety of purposes, including fuel, fodder and medicines purposes. Limited population and restricted distribution has resulted in the species being listed as vulnerable.

Through trial and error, people in the area are now aware that the pale yellow fluffy mushroom growing on Elm is safe for consumption. These mushrooms are locally called “kyaun”, and are a prized delicacy.

Locals go searching for the mushrooms in the rainy season (mid-June to mid-September). Devi tells us that health and economic restraints made her bring some Elm logs to her back yard. She cut them into one-to- two-metre-long logs and carried them to her kitchen garden.

A typical kitchen garden in the area comprises of vegetables and other useful plants grown for self-consumption. One can easily find mustard, amaranth, capsicum, yam, coriander, gourds, cucumber etc, growing in the backyards.

Earlier, Devi’s kitchen garden would only produce enough for subsistence, but now, she even makes money through it.

Her Elm logs bloom with oyster mushrooms when it rains. Every third day, more than 25 logs in her backyard produce almost 10-15 kilogrammes (kg) of mushrooms. The mushrooms can be re-harvested within a couple of days.

The harvest is sold in the market at a premium rate of Rs 60-80 per kg. Interestingly, she is unaware of the cultivation techniques required to grow mushrooms.

Locals in the area are slowly beginning to realise that cultivating these mushrooms can provide a steady source of income. Hence, the need of the hour is to help them derive a livelihood out of the practice and boost inclusive growth.

Field surveys, an eye for surroundings and value addition to grass root innovations are much desired.

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