Naga scientist makes mushroom a big source of money
The nationwide lockdown because of the Covid-19 has had a positive impact on hundreds of people in Nagaland who have been spawning, harvesting, eating and selling kilograms of the delicacy called MUSHROOMS.
So much so that commercial mushroom cultivation in Nagaland as a whole has now picked up, popularizing mushroom cultivation units not only in other parts of the country but also abroad. And for this, credit goes to a large extent to a young Naga Scientist and social entrepreneur, Dr Sosang Longkumer.
37 year-old Sr. Sosang is CEO of ALON MPCS Limited (Society) and also the Founder and Director of ‘KONGER AGRITECH (Pvt Ltd Company)’.
He has been researching different kinds of mushrooms for the last four years, with active encouragement of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Nagaland Centre and Department of Horticulture, Government of Nagaland that are also pushing for more schemes and training to empower mushroom farmers in Nagaland.
“Young Naga Scientist Dr Sosang Longkumer, has taken mushroom cultivation to new heights. ‘Mushroom-preneurs’ of #Nagaland will have a profitable #Agri business, with low investment & early returns and will simultaneously give a major boost to #AatmaNirbharBharat. #NewNortheast”, tweets Dr. Jeetendra Singh, Union Minister of State(independent charge) for Development of North Eastern Region.
Following months of research and experimentation, Dr Sosang saw the first fruit spawn in October 2019. Delighted with the results, he posted a picture on his Instagram account with a caption stating: “So elated to see the exotic shiitake mushrooms in full bloom in Nagaland. Hoping this brings a new chapter of shiitake mushroom farming in Nagaland.”
Exactly a year since then, Dr Sosang has trained approximately 500 farmers in Shiitake and Oyster mushroom cultivation through his start-up, Konger Agritech. Moreover, the Dimapur-based startup has gone on to generate approximately 20,00,000 Shiitake dowel spawns, and 25,000 kg of Oyster mushroom spawns as well.
In a press interview( krishijagran), Dr Sosang says that his entrepreneurial pursuit began nearly a decade ago when he attended a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) entrepreneurship programme in 2011. “Mushrooms, to be specific, began in a jest with my former colleague Dr Rajesh, who was working as a Scientist in ICAR Nagaland Centre,” he says.
Working as a Research Associate in ICAR-NRC on Mithun, Medziphema, Dr Sosang would often visit his colleagues in the ICAR Plant Science Section to observe how they culture the mushroom fungus and make the spawns.
“Since I studied Microbiology in my Bachelors, I told them that I could do this technique easily. They asked me to prove it. I took it upon myself to culture the fungus, made the spawn and showed them,” explains the young scientist, who was associated with ICAR NRC on Mithun from 2008 till 2019.
The senior scientists, impressed by the quality of the result, advised him to start a spawn production lab which was much needed in Nagaland. They also highlighted the need for committed production to meet the high demand.
All this made him realize that mushroom cultivation can be done by anyone and taken up as a full time activity. “Above all, it is a profitable agri business, with low investment and early returns. It can be either a full-time or an alternative source of income,” he adds.
To make mushroom cultivation a year-round activity, Dr Sosang knew he needed a spawn production laboratory to ensure perennial availability for every farmer who wanted to cultivate mushrooms. With the growing interest from potential farmers, government agencies and other organizations, he took it upon himself to set up the lab.
Meanwhile, the emphasis on Shiitake mushrooms was also borne out of the fact that it fetches great prices on the market (as high as Rs 500 to 600 per kg) and requires minimal labour input.
“Mushrooms are a great source of nutrition. Unlike other farm activities, growing mushrooms requires less physical stress. It’s something even the elderly can do. So, I thought, why not make it a household practice in the state. In the long run, I also thought Nagaland could become a hub for mushroom farming,” says Dr Sosang.
He started to make the spawns in small quantities, using other laboratories and it garnered positive response. “I realized the need for a laboratory for which I took a loan from the Bank of Baroda under the PMEGP program through KVIC and set up the lab,” Dr Sosang informs, adding, “ it was the trust in my spawn quality by the first few farmers and the results they generated which motivated me further.”
From there, he cultivated more and showed encouraging results, after which various Government departments came forward for collaboration especially for the Shiitake cultivation trial which was “successful.” Having been able to grow mushroom spawns successfully in his lab, Dr Sosang is also actively engaged in training farmers and entrepreneurs who want to start growing mushrooms and improve their knowledge.
“From the time the farmers procure the spawns from us, till they harvest, we ensure to impart step-by-step guidance. Each variety and place requires a different approach based on the climatic conditions and process, and I take it as a personal responsibility to continuously research and pass on any information to the farmers,” he adds.
Dr Sosang also makes use of the WhatsApp group to actively communicate and share reviews, feedback and information with the farmers on a daily basis.
Dr Sosang is of the firm opinion that his primary goal is to brand Nagaland as an organic Shiitake State in India. According to him, Nagaland can be a hotspot for Shiitake as the state is best suited for its cultivation among all the Northeastern states. “This is because our forest is dominated by hard wood forest especially Oak, Chestnut and Alder woods, which are the best woods for growing Shiitake,” he reasons, adding: “Naga-inhabited districts of Manipur are also good.”
To the farmers in Nagaland, Dr Sosang advises to stock up required materials ahead of time for sustainable farming. For Oyster mushroom cultivation, he informs that paddy straw is one of the main substrates which are available only seasonally.
“Do not let your farming be seasonal just because you fail to stock up raw materials,” he says.
“In Assam, the farmers stock up the straw to grow mushrooms throughout the year and supply the produce to Dimapur market. They supply 300 kg of Oyster mushrooms daily to Dimapur market worth Rs 60000. That is something our farmers should also emulate,” he states.
Likewise for Shiitake mushroom cultivation, the season to cut the log (tree branches only) is from October till March followed by inoculation of spawn.
“It is advised to do the right thing at the right time for a better outcome. Consistency is the key. It is imperative to put all focus on the quality with consistency in the production. Also, take one step at a time and do not rush because every stage is important to sustain successfully,” he says with the hope that farmers who grow mushrooms can become an asset to the economy of Nagaland.