Instead of running after jobs, Sonam Gyeltshen, 26-year-old from Kalapang, Mongar started his mushroom cultivation farm to earn a livelihood. This decision has made him prouder of himself and his income has earned manifold in a short period.
After completing class 12, Sonam went back to the village to support his family. He quit going to school and decided to do something innovative which could make him financially sound. But till 2017, he was unable to figure out anything till he attended a mushroom cultivation awareness program organized by the agriculture department in his village.
“The feeling that I can be more productive and got into mushroom cultivation in 2018 since I wanted to use my spare time productively,” Sonam said.
In the year of 2018, he started Samsara Organic Mushroom Farm, a small oyster mushroom cultivation farm and oyster spawn production unit located in Kalapang under Mongar Dzongkhag.
Availing of a PSL (Priority Sector Lending) loan of Nu 0.25mn, he started his business and later it was expanded with the help from ARDC, Wengkhar under Mongar Dzongkhag, and CARLEP-IFAD (Commercial Agriculture and Resilience Livelihoods Enhancement Program-International Fund for Agriculture Development).
“I feel proud to have established the only oyster mushroom farm in Mongar district,” he said, adding that mushroom production was established as a motive to support the economic development of the country, even though “my contribution is little.”
“I harvested a good amount of mushrooms only after the passage of one year. During the first season of my work, I was able to harvest more than I have expected. I earned a handsome amount out of my first crop which encouraged me to continue with the cultivation of mushrooms,” he added.
Additionally, Sonam said that mushrooms are a vegetarian delicacy and a suitable substitute for meat and eggs, and they are also easily digestible.
He shared that the market for mushrooms is growing rapidly because of their nice aroma, subtle flavor, nutritional value, and special taste, and many exotic preparations are made from them like soup, pickles, vegetables, and many more.
“It is also used for stuffing several food preparations and for garnishing, and most of the Bhutanese people do not consume meat. I see a future market for mushrooms in our country.”
Apart from the cultivation of oyster mushrooms and production of oyster spawn, the entrepreneur now helps other aspiring entrepreneurs and gives training as a resource person.
Sonam has been able to lead a better and more financially stable life ever since he started to cultivate mushrooms. He intends to expand from one unit to more than three in near future in his village.
Sonam said that the journey over the years was not as smooth. There were many hitches, which made him discover more about the fungi world. Currently, he cultivates oyster mushrooms of different types, and the farm has also started to produce oyster spawns apart from mushroom production since 2020.
Sonam now earns around Nu 0.22–0.3mn a month during mushroom season, from mushroom cultivation to spawn production. As the demand for mushrooms is very high in the market, he said that as of now they are selling their fresh products directly to the market.
Additionally, he said as of now, black oysters are in high demand in the market, followed by the spawn. However, Sonam said that there were some challenges faced during the cultivation, such as infection of mushrooms due to fluctuations in humidity and temperature.
He said that during winter, the cultivator needs to keep proper heating arrangements in the room and the temperature of the room must be 20-25 degree Celsius for a better crop. “During summer the cultivator does not need heating arrangements because the substantial outside temperature does the job,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sonam said that there required a lot of precautions in mushroom cultivation. He said that large-scale mushroom cultivation is not an easy job. There are many precautions before and after cultivation.
“Today, my business runs quite well,” Sonam said.
“I sell mushrooms at a rate of Nu 350 per kg to my customers and in the market, the same is being sold at Nu 200-350 per kg. Since people love organic vegetables, people across the district approach me around the year for fresh mushrooms,” he said.
Meanwhile, he started his business with Nu 0.7mn, which was a Nu 0.235mn Priority Sector Lending (PSL) loan, and the rest he invested himself.
In the future, Sonam said that he is going to focus more on the King oyster mushroom. “It contains a high medical value.” he said, adding that he also wants to make his mushroom production organic so that we can sell our products directly and easily.”
Sonam soon after realized that most of the educated youths were migrating to urban areas for a better life, not knowing that in the villages, there were also lots of opportunities to earn and live, so he decided to stay back.
“I feel that government cannot give jobs to everyone so the need of the hour is that the educated unemployed youth should rise to the occasion and start their ventures but unfortunately most of the youth in the country yearn for white collar jobs which seems difficult due to unavailability of the corporate sector in Bhutan,” Sonam said.
“We should take advantage of whatever is feasible and convenient here and should not stick to government jobs only. There are hundreds of financial schemes being run by different government departments which I believe youth should take advantage of,” Sonam added.
Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu