MAPUSA: Goans are generally considered to be ‘susegaad’ in nature, thanks to their laid-back attitude in life. This tag however is slowly being erased by enterprising Goans, ready to slog, compete and scale new heights. One such personality is Shivanand Volvoikar from Porvorim, who has established himself in Mapusa by venturing into a less-traversed path.
Taking the plunge into growing, promoting, marketing, helping the government, and, above all, conducting research speaks volumes about Shivanand, who has set the ball rolling in the mushroom business. For the lay consumer, mushrooms broadly fall into three categories - wild edible mushrooms, button mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms - nothing more. However, Shivanand has shown that the world of mushrooms is very vast. Continuously traveling all over India to study and introduce newer mushroom patterns is the hallmark of this researcher.
“Mushrooms have high nutritional value; and have significant marketing and research potential. Until now, this field is untapped. Mushrooms can really occupy centre stage for their nutritional value,” asserts Shivanand, whose present focus is growing oyster mushrooms organically in his laboratory in Mapusa.
For Shivanand, the turning point in his business came about three years ago when the Goa government’s mushroom programme almost collapsed. The Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) was about to start a training course for people interested in mushroom cultivation, but their lab in Old Goa developed some problems, and all their spawn and mushroom cultures were compromised. “They were in a difficult situation as their training was about to start. We supplied them with six test tubes for culture and subculture, but those also went bad. We needed to identify the root cause of this problem. It was only after addressing other aspects like temperature, humidity, and related factors that we were able to successfully provide them with two test tubes for the programme. The course was conducted, and I was also invited as a resource person,” says Shivanand, proudly. He asserts that ATMA Project Director Kishore Bhave has always been supportive and enthusiastic about promoting mushroom education among youth and farmers. On realising the potential of oyster mushrooms, Shivanand ventured into commercial production. This was in addition to his research and development work under the banner of Vana Shrubs Pvt Ltd.
“After our success with the ATMA program, we were offered the opportunity to supply oyster mushrooms to the 14 Bhagayatdaar outlets across Goa. In the beginning, it was a challenging task as we had to travel with just one kilogram of mushrooms to far-off centres like Canacona and Quepem, which was not at all economical. However, our efforts were validated when within three weeks of starting, each centre began to order 10 kilograms of mushrooms at a time,” he recalls.
Not one to rest on his achievements, Shivanand plans to fully expand his farm on a commercial basis. “Currently, we also produce mushroom pickles, mushroom biscuits, papad, and chocolates that will be made in the coming days, as well as mushroom tinctures and other products prepared after extensive testing. We are also experimenting with mushroom-infused tea using five different herbs,” he says. He maintains a well-equipped, heavily protected, and sanitised lab for mushroom production. Shivanand is also open to the idea of various mushroom-infused products, which he believes will add more value.
Sadly, while the government talks about encouraging start-up industries and locals to excel, the reality is that a lot of red tape exists. The government seems to adopt a hostile approach towards Goans who have unique plans for societal improvement. For Shivanand, handling the spawn, culture, maintaining temperature, achieving good harvests, and marketing it all is not an easy task. However, he remains enthusiastic about it.
“After Ganesh, we plan to regularly harvest at least 30 kilograms of oyster mushrooms,” he quips. Shivanand believes that for innovative individuals like him, who introduce something unique, the government should consider joint ventures to help recover some costs. Unfortunately, such efforts often meet with reluctance. “Recently, the Central Government declared mushrooms as a superfood and instructed State governments to include mushrooms as part of the midday meals for students. However, this directive seems to be pushed into cold storage, and not many are aware of it. We put a lot of effort into growing oyster mushrooms from spawn and culture. We believe that the mushroom industry has great potential for generating employment, but the government must step in and help shoulder some of the burden,” he signs off.