Jobs for women “mushroom” in Kashmir
Summary of story in Womensenews, April 4, 2011
Employment can be hard to find in rural Kashmir, India but a solution has emerged in the form of mushroom cultivation.
In the Srinagar Valley strict gender roles have traditionally limited women’s economic independence.
The female work participation rate is just 25.6 percent nationally and 22.5 percent in the state of Kashmir and Jammu, according to India’s latest census in 2001.
To tackle this problem and to provide a boost to the region’s economy, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Kashmir, SKUAST-K, has created two model “mushroom villages” in the northeastern districts of Baramulla and Budgam.
The projects were set up in in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and give tuition both on site at the university and in women’s homes.
After completing the training, women are given the materials to start mushroom production. So far, 136 are growing the fungi in their homes in Budgam village, and 65 women are growing mushrooms in Baramulla.
“After acquiring training from the center, I’ve set up my own unit,” grower Haleema Begum says. “I don’t have to work hard as it is an easy task and I have engaged my family members as well.”
Nazir Ahmad Munshi, senior scientist at SKUAST-K’s Mushroom Research and Training Center, says the business is popular as it’s home-based and the materials are easy to source:
“Raw material required for mushroom compost that is important for mushroom production is locally available, like paddy and wheat straw, chicken manure and horse dung. We even train our trainees on how autumn fallen leaves, like apple and chinar, can be used as compost for mushroom production.”
It’s also a profitable activity. For a minimum of 200 trays or 500 bags, a grower can earn $220 a month. Munshi gives the example of one grower who earned almost $3,400 last year, and says others have been able to market their produce in New Delhi.
However, it can be hard for female growers to sell their mushrooms. To help, the university arranges load carriers to take their produce to the markets.
Finding the space to grow the mushrooms at home can also be problematic, and the project is looking at providing separate cultivating huts for the village communities.
Grower Shaista Bano (not related to Naseema Bano) says women can also face financial constraints because of their gender:
“Families aren’t encouraging, and it is difficult for us to avail loan facilities,” she says. “Parents don’t encourage their girls for setting up businesses.”
She says more financial assistance is needed from the government.
SKUAST-K aims to set up five more mushroom villages across the valley by the end of this year, expanding the project so more women can become economically active.