Mushrooms: The vegetable of the future
In India, mushroom is a unique non-traditional cash crop grown indoors, both as a seasonal crop and round-the-year under the controlled environmental conditions. About 2000 species of fungi are used as food by tribes and various communities, however, only a few are cultivated. Climatic conditions in India are favourable for natural occurrence of mushrooms and some of them are regularly collected and used as food by the natives particularly those belonging to tribes. The common mushrooms collected from nature are species of Astraeus, Auricularia, Calvatia, Cantharellus, Lycoperdon, Morchella, Schizophyllum, Termitomyces, Tuber etc.
World production of mushroom is growing and now exceeds three million tonnes worth a market value of US $ 10 billion and Agaricus bisporus accounts for most of this production. Globally, mushrooms are traded mostly in processed form. However, lately fresh mushrooms are being preferred over preserved ones in EU and American countries. Major exporting countries of fresh mushrooms are Netherlands, Poland, Ireland and Belgium. China is the largest exporter of preserved mushrooms with a market share of 41.82%. Netherlands (25.11%) and Spain (7.37 %) are the other major countries. India ranks sixth with a market share of 4.44 %. The major importing countries of prepared and preserved mushrooms are Germany, USA and France while of fresh mushrooms are U.K, Germany, USA and France.
Fig 1: World production of fresh Mushrooms (2007)
Source: APEDA Reports
Though China (47 %) is the major producer of Mushrooms, nevertheless maximum portion is consumed by USA (30 %) followed by Germany (17 %).
Fig 2: World Mushroom consumption
Source: National Research Center of Mushroom (NRCM) Report 2007
India is not a major producer of any of the mushroom varieties but it does cultivate mushrooms and has a great potential as an important producer in the future. Currently India stands 54 in the world ranking of producers. The per capita consumption of mushroom in India is currently only about 25 g per year as compared to USA which is around 3.8 kg. There has been a steady increase in the consumption of exotic mushrooms in addition to use of regular button mushrooms.
Mushroom production in India has been estimated at 48000 tonnes per annum. Punjab alone produces 20-25 % of total produce followed by Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Currently three varieties of mushrooms are being cultivated in India. These are the white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), the paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella vovacea) and the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sajor caju) Of these A.bisporus is the most widely and economically cultivated variety throughout the world.
India’s exports of preserved and prepared mushrooms showed a steady growth from Rs. 47 Crores in 2005-06 to Rs. 108 Crores in 2006-07 thereby showing a growth of 39 % in 2006-07. However the export of fresh mushrooms declined from Rs. 7.5 crores in 2005-06 Crores to 4.2 Crores in 2006-07. USA continues to be the largest market for Indian mushrooms, accounting for a share of 69.52% in 2006-07. Other growing export markets include Mexico and Israel.
It can be seen that though India’s present share in the world production is meager but still the potential for future growth is rated high. The natural advantages for mushroom cultivation in India are the availability of cheap labor as this is a labor intensive process, presence of seasonal variations enabling us to cultivate different mushrooms under natural conditions in the form of crop rotation in different seasons and regions and lastly the abundance & availability of variety of agrowastes at low prices for mushroom cultivation.
Fig 3: Export Value of fresh, dried & preserved mushrooms/morels to different countries 2007
Source: Apeda reports
Three institutes are currently involved in Mushroom studies namely Central Food Technological Research Institute (CSIR), RRL Jammu (CSIR) and National Research Center for Mushroom (ICAR). The major achievements till date are development of single spore isolates (SSI) and hybrids of Agaricus bisporus out of which five SSI’s NCS-100, NCS-101, CM-3, CM-5 & CM-9 and a hybrid NCH-102 have been released and two superior strains viz. NCB-13 and NCB-6 have been identified which are suitable for cultivation in plains and low hills. Cultivation and production technology (dehydrated) of shiitake mushroom and oyster mushroom has also been standardized, enhanced the quality and storage period, developed technologies for production of many value- added products of mushrooms -dried, pickle , soup powder etc.
All India Coordinated Mushroom Improvement Project
The All India Coordinated Mushroom Improvement Project was launched in the year 1984 with its headquarters at the National Research Centre for Mushroom, Solan. Under this programme the coordinating centres conduct multi-locational trials on the technologies developed by the centre on all India bases. The coordinating centres (state agricultural universities) are located at Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Kerala and Bihar.
There is a central scheme on mushroom farming by Ministry of rural development which can be availed through CAPART and other is through Min. of Food Processing. The main focus of this scheme to train, information dissemination, technical and financial assistance for preparation of cultures/spawn cultivation, harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, marketing linkages with farmers to employment opportunities and generating income with special emphasis on women. Other than this different types of financial assistance and soft loans are also available from National Co-operative Development Corporation (NCDC), National Horticulture Board (N.H.B.), A.P.E.D.A., State Govt. Agencies responsible for development of Agriculture and Agro-based ventures.
Antitumour, anti-cancer and many other therapeutic properties have been attributed to mushrooms. Being rich in folic acid they counteract pernicious anemia. The polysaccharides found in mushrooms have proven antitumour activity. Antimalarial, antifungal and antiviral principles are attributed to many mushrooms. Cholesterol (dreaded sterol for heart patients) is absent but ergosterol is present that is converted to vitamin D by human body. High K:Na ratio is found in most mushrooms which is desirable for patients with hypertension. Besides this the high fiber content helps easier digestion.
Value added products from mushroom are a promising enterprise. Mushroom being highly perishable forces the producer to preserve and process it. Preservation is essential to make it available throughout the year to retain maximum nutrients, texture and flavour and to increase its per capita consumption in developing countries. The value added products will not only cater to the protein and micronutrient requirement but at the same time will enable the population to live a healthy life. But food processing in India is not only far behind the developed countries of the world but is much less than developing countries like Philippines and China where value addition is 45 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively as compared with 7 per cent in India. Presently the mushroom products available are bakery products (biscuits, bread, cakes), pickles, chutneys, nuggets, papads & fast food items like burgers, cutlets and pizza etc.
Sustenance from wild edible mushrooms: The variety which had been exported in dried form i.e. Moral or Black mushrooms (Morchella Spp) commonly known as ‘Guchhi’ is collected as wild growth from coniferous forests of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. Morels (gucchhi) growing only in wild, are the most valued wild mushroom in Western Europe particularly France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The international trade in dried morels is estimated to 225 tons annually. The suppliers are India, China, Turkey, Pakistan, North America and Eastern Europe. Pakistan alone exports nearly 65 tons annually. It is claimed that 2,89,000 persons are engaged annually in Pakistan in morel mushroom hunting on part time basis including 33% women, 27% men and 40% children from March to July months. The price for one kilogram dried morels is US $ 50 for the collector, $ 166 for wholesaler, $ 216 for exporter $ 330 for the importer. The global trade for yellow chanterelle mushroom (Cantherellus spp.) is much more lucrative than for morels, 200000 metric tons are bought and sold annually worldwide ranging from 1.25 to 1.4 billion US dollars every year. Germany is largest importer, followed by France and other Western Europe.
In Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir Morchella spp. are collected systematically during the growing seasons (spring and sometimes after rainy season) and sold to established markets both fresh and as dried mushrooms. In Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and north eastern states wild mushrooms are sold in the local markets and provide sustenance to the tribal people and forest dwellers during the lean period (rainy season) when other non-wood forest products are not available in the forests. In the north-east of India some commonly wild mushrooms used in food are Auricularia auricula, Schizophyllum commune, Lentinus spp., etc.
There is scope to tap the potential in and outside of our forests for providing sustained livelihood and profit to the people through systematic collection and processing of wild mushrooms, which is till today limited to the collection of morels only.
Guarding against non-edible, toxic substances in wild mushrooms: Mushroom diversity is abundant in nature, especially in forests. Mushroom collectors flock the areas during the growing season chiefly in rainy season to hunt for prized and delicious ones. Unfortunately, there are always cases of mushroom poisoning sometimes leading to death during such collections all over the world. However, it is the experience and knowledge of the people about these mushrooms that comes handy in choosing from the diverse types especially edible and poisonous ones. As such there are no conclusive rules for distinguishing between edible and poisonous mushrooms. Thumb rules like flesh of mushroom turning bluish on exposure, brightly coloured fruiting bodies, unpleasant odour and fibrous flesh are followed in avoiding mushrooms for edible purposes. But the time tested rule is to go for the known ones and not to experiment with the new ones. Correct taxonomic identification and established facts about edibility of mushrooms should be followed while collecting mushrooms from the wild for food. For example, the prized gucchi (morels, Morchella spp.) are easy to distinguish, however, there is another mushroom Gyromitra spp. which resembles to Morchella to some extent and can lead to mishap even if a single fruiting body is present in the collection. Similarly some mushrooms like species of Amanita and Psilocybe are known for hallucinogenic effects and addicted people are always in a look out for them, however, an overdose is always fatal.
Sustenance through mushroom cultivation: Mushroom cultivation started somewhere in late sixties and early seventies in the country and since then has come a long way of self sufficiency in meeting demands of the users in the country as well as of exports. We had fewer consumers in the eighties for cultivated mushrooms due to biasness, lack of awareness and taste but now mushrooms form a special dish on every occasion and demands and production has grown manifold.
Three mushrooms are commonly cultivated throughout India namely button (Agaricus bisporus), Oyster (Pleurotus spp.) and paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea). Their ability to grow on agricultural wastes in less area required for cultivation makes an attractive proposition for income generation. The added advantage is in improvement in dietary leading to solution to malnutrition, pollution abatement and diversification of agriculture. Mushroom cultivation produces about 32 tons of dry protein per year in per acre of land while by fish farming only 3 quintals of proteins can be produced. The agriculture wastes which are burnt and cause environmental pollution, if can be used for mushroom cultivation will not only check pollution but will also play an important role in carbon sequestration and proper utilization of waste products.
Mushroom cultivation also provides employment generation. There is ample scope to earn more from mushroom cultivation using some innovation like attractive packaging for longer shelf-life, processing units for canned items, value addition and new products such as mushroom nuggets (burries), biscuits, papads, pickles, soup powder, etc.
Mushrooms are of excellent food value as they provide a full protein food containing all the twenty one amino acids besides containing useful amount of fats, vitamins and minerals. Mushroom protein being easily digestible (70-90%) is considered superior to vegetable proteins. Two essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan are enormously present in mushrooms which are not found in cereals. Being low in caloric value (300 – 390 Kcal/100 g dry wt), low fat and high protein, they are considered as ‘delight of diabetic patients’. Folic acid and Vitamin B-12 which are normally absent in vegetarian foods are present in mushrooms (3 g fresh mushroom can supply 1 micro g vitamin B12, recommended for daily uptake).
At present we have the lowest rate of protein consumption and due to population explosion the problem of protein hunger will become more acute. Under prevailing circumstances all possible sources of protein products will have to be exploited to save the country from hunger and malnutrition. Edible mushrooms can therefore be used as a weapon against starvation because of its high protein and vitamin content. And in a way contribute to food security by being easily available, affordable and usable.
As aforementioned, mushrooms with its huge health benefits can solve many a problems of undernutrition and malnutrition. Despite this fact mushroom cultivation and its utilization is not catching up fast.
The major constraints and how this can be prevailed over are:
- Mushrooms are not popular in India. Both produces and consumers are not aware of its intrinsic worth. This can be overcome by organizing campaigns, training programmes, workshops, propagating its virtues through media etc.
- Being highly perishable, lack of immediate access to markets is a major bottleneck in mushroom farming. The seasonality and wide fluctuation in collection results into erratic procurement and supply. The collection therefore may be organized by farming co-operatives or by NGOs/Traders.
- As Mushrooms have to be immediately processed to increase its shelf life period, lack of storage facilities like processing units, cold storage, refrigerated transport etc are also one of the deterrents.
So it can be inferred that production of highly perishable commodities such as mushroom need a lot more than interim infrastructural facilities. It needs a synergy between various segments of cultivators, productions such as production centres, pre-cooling units, cold storages and export processing units or export processing zones and more so the ultimate consumers.
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