By Afsana Bhat
Sunday, April 10, 2011
It's hard for many women in rural Kashmir to find income opportunities, but mushroom cultivation is popping up as a possible solution. The work can be done from home and a university is helping with training and marketing.
But Munshi says it's hard for growers to market their mushrooms because they are women. To help, the university arranges load carriers to take their produce to the markets.
The university also aims to provide mini-canning units, which process mushrooms, in the villages. Munshi says that the villages should also have mushroom houses or farms, since a lack of space is another problem.
"Space in their respective homes isn't easily provided by the families to women for this purpose," says one grower, Shaista Bano, who is not related to Naseema Bano.
She says that women also face financial constraints because of their gender.
"Families aren't encouraging, and it is difficult for us to avail loan facilities," she says. "Parents don't encourage their girls for setting up businesses."
Shaista Bano says the government should assist them financially.
The Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya, a nongovernmental organization, has also set up a mushroom cultivation program for women.
"People here didn't know that mushrooms could be cultivated and consumed," says Mubashir Ahmad, a Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya coordinator. "We got spawn from SKUAST-K and offered it to our beneficiaries."
SKUAST-K aims to set up five more mushroom villages across the valley by the end of this year. Munshi says the program plans to focus on dhingri mushrooms more than button mushrooms because they offer more crops annually, don't require compost and have a longer shelf life because they can be dried.
Munshi says that if the growers can raise their prices and maintain the proper temperature during the winter -- so mushrooms can be cultivated year-round -- Kashmir could compete with China in mushroom production.
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Afsana Bhat joined Global Press Institute in 2010. She reports on environmental and human rights issues in Kashmir.
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