COVID-19: Experts look at mushrooms for employment, immunity concerns

The Directorate of Mushroom Research in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan announced release of four new high-yielding strains of mushrooms recently 

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Monday 15 June 2020

The release of four new high-yielding strains of mushrooms for commercial use in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan has put the spotlight on mushroom cultivation as a means to cushion employment loss in the wake of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The pandemic has also prompted a few experts to look at consumption of mushrooms, known for their immunity-boosting anti-viral properties, with renewed vigour. 

The announcement for the release of mushrooms — two strains of White Button variety and one each of shiitake and milky mushroom — was made by the Directorate of Mushroom Research (DMR) in Solan during the 22nd annual workshop of All India Coordinated Research Project on Mushrooms on June 9. A drive has also been undertaken to propagate more consumption for the purpose.

All four strains of mushrooms are of good quality, according to experts at DMR. Solan is known as the mushroom capital of India.

They added that the two strains of white button variety are likely to fetch a 15 per cent increase in their yield. “White button is among the most popular edible and culinary varieties of mushroom. It is the best source of Vitamin D for the vegetarian population. A mere 10 grams of its consumption can fulfil half the body requirement of Vitamin D,” said an expert.

He added that white button mushrooms also help keep sugar levels stable and are the most popular variety of mushrooms grown and produced in north India.

Development and release of Milky mushroom is all set to enhance the yield by at least 16 per cent, according to experts. This is a variety that is normally grown and consumed in the coastal parts of the country. It is among those rare varieties that can be grown in tropical climates where the temperatures are on the higher side 32-42 degrees Celsius.

“The biggest advantage of this variety is the extremely low cost of production. It can be grown at one-fourth the cost of White Button variety since all it needs is hot water for pasteurization. There is no hassle of compost and one can produce it for as low as Rs 15 per kilogram,” the expert stated.

He pointed out that milky mushroom is consumed along with the paddy straw variety in coastal parts of the country.

The last strain pertains to the medicinal culinary variety of shiitake mushroom and promises to enhance the yield by 18 per cent.

Employment concerns

Experts are also looking at promoting mushroom production through a lens of employment in the face of the reverse migration triggered by COVID-19 lockdown.

This aspect was highlighted by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Director-General Trilochan Mohapatra during the workshop, when he talked about the employment generation ability of mushroom production activity.

Experts pointed to the advantages of mushroom cultivation. “The crop does not get affected by vagaries of climate since it is cultivated in controlled atmosphere under a roof. It requires very little space. The biggest advantage of this vocation is that it ensures up to 100 per cent profit,” he said.

“The four strains will go a long way in helping cultivators. Our journey in enhancing the production has been promising in the last five years. We doubled the production to two lakh tonnes. We are hoping for a 20 per cent annual increase,” DMR director VP Sharma said.

Sources pointed out that India needed to enhance consumption and production of mushrooms to make it a success story.

They claimed that certain policy-level issues needed to be sorted out. Mushroom cultivation is categorised under industrial activity in several states whereas it needs to be treated as an agriculture activity and the benefits should be extended to cultivators accordingly, according to experts.

“The cultivator is essentially a farmer. One cannot expect him to sort out issues pertaining to Goods and Services Tax or Income and Sales Tax just because in his state, mushroom cultivation is treated as an industrial activity,” said a source.

Another aspect pertains to diversifying mushroom cultivation. This has been undertaken in a big way and according to experts, India is looking at cultivating mushrooms beyond the four-five varieties.

The aim would be to develop varieties that can grow in all climatic and geographical zones across the country without being over dependent on energy sources, they claimed.

‘Immunity booster’

Mohapatra also emphasised on the need to develop new strains in medicinal mushrooms with high bioactive compounds. He stressed on the importance of collaborative research approach with premier research institutes to study the efficacy of mushroom bioactive compounds and their role in human immune modulation.

Sharma told this reporter that the DMR has been issuing advisories on propagating consumption of mushrooms while underlining its anti-viral and immunity regulation features during COVID-19 times.

The efficacy of mushroom consumption is being promoted through small documentaries, social media and various other channels. Mushrooms are also known to have anti-cancer properties besides being a stamina enhancer.

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