When it comes to Mushrooms, Bhutan is the First World
In 1998, Bhutan exported US$ 2 million worth of Matsutaki variety of mushrooms – both dried and fresh to Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India.
Commenting on Bhutan’s export potential of mushrooms, Dorji Wangchuk, National Director, National Mushroom Centre said, “When it comes to mushrooms, Bhutan is not a third world, it is the first world.”
In bhutan, mushrooms grow in abundance. So far, 457 species of them have been identified. These do not comprise a quarter of available species in the country. However, only 137 varieties have been identified as edible. Of these, 36 are popular in Bhutan and are available in the market. The country’s climate and abundance of logs and wood provide congenial conditions for growing some of the best mushrooms in the world.
Added to this natural advantage are the efforts of National Mushroom Centre set up in 1984. It has by providing to the farmers spawn or seeds and scientific knowhow helped them to develop better strains of mushrooms and cultivate them as cash crop. “Market for the mushroom is sure. It is a very good cash crop with tremendous potential for export,” said Dorji Wangchuk. Westerners enjoy these delicate mushrooms broiled or sauted. Bhutanese cook them with local cheese and chilies. Either way it is delicious.
“Besides the export potential, cultivation of mushrooms provides additional income to landless people. Cultivating them is not as labour intensive as growing rice or other produce. The price of dried mushroom is fixed at 650 Nu per kg which is the same as the income from transporting and selling one quintal of potatoes,” he said.
Mushrooms are grown in almost all the districts of Bhutan. Bumthang’s cracked Shitakes are very good and much in demand.
“Climate conditions do play a role, but we have been successful in cultivating mushrooms all over Bhutan because they are grown indoors and the environment can be controlled. That has encouraged our farmers,” said Wangchuk.
The people of Bhutan have been collecting and eating wild mushrooms for hundreds of years. Many varieties of wild mushrooms are collected and sold in Bhutan.
However, to have a first hand information on how mushrooms are cultivated, I visited Gidakom accompanied by Subhash Rana, Extension Agent, National Mushroom Centre, Simtokha. I was informed of 8 different techniques to cultivate and grow mushrooms all the year-round. The simplest and most common way is the log-based method to grow Oak or Shitake mushrooms. The log method can be easily adopted by the farmers and it doesn’t take up much space or involve great investment in labour.
According to Rana, oak logs 4 to 10 inches in diameter are optimal for growing Shitakes. The logs are collected and holes drilled into them which are filled with mushrooms spawns. Thereafter the holes are sealed with beeswax and the logs are put in one meter stacks.
During the initial few months of incubation the mushroom billets have to be rotated and watered periodically. Between 6 to 12 months, the mycelium spreads over the wood. Mushrooms are then forced out from the wood by means of ‘cooling shock’ in which the logs are soaked in water from 12 to 24 hours and then they are wrapped in plastic. After cooling shock, the billets are stacked again and after about a week, mushroom sprout in profusion. The logs produce a new crop of mushrooms every few weeks. However, growers are advised to harvest mushrooms not more than 4 times a year from a matured billet.
The National Mushroom Centre has trained 1,179 farmers in Shitake production and 1,538 in Matsutake harvesting technology. Members of the staff have travelled to Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Italy and Ireland, to learn more about mushroom cultivation. Staffs of 14 extension agents are constantly travelling throughout the country to train farmers and monitor the cultivation of mushroom. Within the next few years the Mushroom Centre hopes to quadruple its staffs so that it can train more farmers and take up more research programmes.
The Centre continues to introduce new varieties of mushrooms. The most recent are three varieties of oyster and truffle. “Introduction of the later which are expensive and sought-after mushrooms, for cultivation in Bhutan, would be a dream comes true,” said Dorji Wangchuk.
Farmers are aware of the benefits of cultivating mushrooms. “Compare to last year, this year we’ve had a 10-fold increase in production,” Wangchuk said. “We’ve produced 31.5 tones this year and 288 new farmers are operating over 150,000 billets. The Centre hopes to add 500 new farmers each year to produce mushrooms worth about $118,000 annually.”
By: Linda Leaming, 2002