There were many families who were migrating to cities for a livelihood in Uttrakhand villages. They were chasing a dream of better livelihoods and better living conditions. But most of them didnt have it their way. Many of them had to work in Dabas or had to do other menial jobs make their ends meet.
Divya Rawat was very disturbed to see the fate of these migrants from her home state. She came from Uttarakhand to Delhi to pursue her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in social work. After that, she found a job in a leading NGO, where she worked on human rights issues. It really hurt her to see people from her state living miserable lives in the city while the villages back home turned into ghost villages with only 2 to three families left. She really wanted to do something about this situation and the big push came when Uttarakhand was hit by the tragic floods of 2013. Divya immediately quit her job and went back to Dehradun to help her people. Her plan was to try and revive decent livelihoods for the people of Uttarakhand. She wanted people to find employment and lead dignified lives within the state. And she also wanted those who had left for the cities to come back home.
“Sometimes the best solutions lie in the simplest of things,” says Divya, who found her solution to the big problem in growing mushrooms.
Why mushrooms? That’s a question most of us will ask. Well. Here is the answer.While a farmer earns Rs. 8 to 10 per kilogram from selling potatoes, he/she can earn Rs. 80 to 100 per kilogram from selling mushrooms! “This price difference can change the lives of farmers. I decided to make mushroom growing a household project. I wanted the cultivation to be made simple so it could be adopted by as many people as possible. I researched, took training in growing, learnt about, and experimented with mushrooms. Then I zeroed in on the best varieties that can be grown in the weather conditions of Uttarakhand, with the humblest of infrastructure,” adds Divya.
Divya used bamboo racks for vertical cultivation, eliminating the need for large spaces and costly metal structures. She decided to grow three varieties that were suitable for Uttarakhand – button, oyster and milky mushrooms. These varieties can be grown indoors in all seasons and do not require air conditioning. This really made a difference to her and others in the community where they could keep the costs in check.
“If you have a small room to spare, even under a thatched roof, you can grow mushrooms without any hassles all through the year,” says Divya.
Divya’s family had faith in her confidence and pooled in money to help her start Soumya Foods Pvt. Ltd. She started growing mushroom in large quantities and provided employment to many. The market demand for mushrooms was high – Divya and her mushroom entrepreneurs had no difficulty in selling their produce.
Next, Divya spent some time aggressively training people all over Uttarakhand. People from around the country also started to come to her to learn about growing mushrooms. She helped people become entrepreneurs with an investment of just Rs. 50,000.
“If they can’t invest this amount, I encourage them to take a bag of mushrooms from me and learn how to grow them. I inspire them and guide them so they can learn and make change possible,” says Divya passionately.
While her company has started making profits in just three years and the number of mushroom farmers in Uttarakhand has increased several fold, Divya has not forgotten the ghost villages. Reverse migration might not happen very soon but Divya is hopeful that mushroom farming will eventually change the lives of villagers and farmers in Uttarakhand drastically.
We really appreciate what is being done and hope that more and more youngsters will turn in to social entrepreneurs guiding the society to live in a sustainable way and dispel the myth that you have to be in a city to do well in life.