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Posted at: Oct 6, 2018, 12:30 AM; last updated: Oct 6, 2018, 12:30 AM (IST)DHARAMPUR

Rs 423-cr mushroom project needs serious rethink

It’s doubtful Himachal has sufficient raw material

Sunil Mamgain

Recently, I came to know that the Himachal Pradesh government is contemplating a big state-of-the-art mushroom project at Dharampur in Mandi district of the state. This area is constituency of Horticulture minister of the state who is the driving force behind it. 

I am working in the mushroom industry for the past 15 years and out of that for 13 years out of India. An investment of Rs 423 crore ($59 million) means a huge mushroom farm that could easily produce over 50 tons of mushrooms per day. I am saying this on the basis of my own professional experience of setting up of mushroom farms. I don’t know if the state government has done any feasibility study before taking the decision to invest the money. If this study was ever done, it could be strongly challenged.

To grow mushrooms, the basic raw materials are wheat/rice straw, chicken/horse manure and good quality of the casing soil. I doubt that Himachal has a sufficient quantity of these raw materials. Setting up sheds for growth and an AC plant for climate control is easy. I know many small farmers producing 500-1,000 kilo of mushrooms per day in Himachal; they bring these materials from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana. Imagine how much of straw or chicken manure must be transported from out of state! It would be a logistic nightmare. The Maharaja of Patiala, was the first to commercialise growing of mushrooms at Chail in HP but his farm collapsed, as raw material costs were high. Agro Dutch Industries Ltd near Lalru in Punjab set up the biggest mushroom farm in the world with a production capacity of over 100 tons per day, that farm is also bankrupt now due to financial burden and not being able to compete in international markets for processed mushrooms.

I personally feel if the HP government still wants to go ahead with the project, it must do a proper study involving people who have hands-on experience and not the consultants who sit in their AC rooms and make projects.  It is good to rope in foreign experts but they do not understand the ground realities in India. They would run some trial production, set up their machines and equipment and would never advise the government on high raw-material costs and the logistics. They can sell the technology for processing but not discuss markets for the processed product.  Their job is always well done and they wash off their hands after selling technology. 

The world market for the processed and fresh mushrooms is highly competitive and margins are very small. Even in India, selling fresh mushrooms becomes nightmarish during the winters when Sonepat mushrooms flood the market. In canned mushrooms, no one can beat the Chinese and the Europeans because of their cheap product unless your production costs are extremely low. 

My suggestion is that if the government still wants to go ahead with the project, it should do so slowly. 

(The writer is from Solan. He has over 15 years of experience working with mushroom-growing in India and abroad) 


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