Pranjal Baruah is ending the exploitation of landless labourers and small income farmers by introducing mushroom cultivation as an economic opportunity in northeast India. By creating a market for mushrooms and a support system that empowers farmers, Pranjal helps them take control over their produce from middlemen.
Pranjal works with farmers and other key stakeholders to encourage mushroom cultivation as an additional livelihood option. To motivate farmers, Pranjal’s organisation Mushroom Development Foundation (MDF) acts as a knowledge sharing platform and conducts one-day training programs to simplify mushroom cultivation. In the process, the organisation encourages farmers to share individual experiences and knowledge on an ongoing basis to create localised solutions and strengthen the peer support system. The organisation also provides farmers with cost effective materials, tools and other inventions to support them at different points of the cultivation chain and strengthen their control over the crop and the market. For instance, MDF’s commercial mushroom spawn production lab, operational since 1995, provides spawns to kick start the cultivation. Pranjal also strengthens farmers’ capabilities by introducing entrepreneurial skill development programs that build skills to market their products.
Pranjal uses an integrated cluster development approach to strategically organize villages into clusters to build awareness, support and capacities of key stakeholders including local governance systems, government departments and other institutions. MDF introduces it’s Eco-Friendly Integrated Livelihood Mission (E-FILM) while sensitizing stakeholders to the socio-economic opportunities presented through mushroom cultivation. E-FILM promotes multiple livelihoods like pig rearing, goat rearing other than mushroom farming, that benefit the local communities and embeds them into their system by involving key stakeholders. While MDF continues to provide the mushroom cultivation infrastructure and support, it involves other institutions to take on pieces relevant to their work. The organisation builds capacities of local governance systems to develop a community-based collection and distribution system while integrating additional livelihood options. By standardizing price and quality, he gives power to the farmers to collectively demand a fair minimum price.
Over the last decade, MDF has trained over 20,000 farmers on mushroom cultivation in 8 states, spanning 37 districts and 800 villages and groomed 200 master-trainers and 600 entrepreneurs. Over 3000 farmers’ income has increased from Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 pa from mushrooms while over 100 entrepreneurs‘ incomes increased from Rs 30,000 to Rs 300,000 pa through mushroom trading activities. E-FILM networking now includes 28 clusters with 300 villages and 3000 farmers.
Several entrepreneurs, master trainers and collaborating government departments and CSOs have replicated the model creating an organic momentum to the idea across northeast India. Pranjal has started a collective effort as a consultant for Govt of Assam Directorate of Horticulture towards farmers selection and project implementation by involving communities through the Cluster Monitoring Committee comprising of local professional community leaders.
Pranjal plans on creating a network of collection and distribution centers connecting the existing 300 villages and additional 700 new that will be piloted in Ribhoi district. He is developing an institute that will act as a livelihood school and a policy research center to assure quality planting materials and institutionalize traditional knowledge and best practices. Pranjal recently launched “Grow Your Own Mushroom” campaign that will focus on introducing the potential of mushroom to households in urban areas and in the process promote mushroom farmers through food festivals. Pranjal is planning to reach out to over 2000 households to create new livelihoods for over 200 farmers.
Note: This was updated in February, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile