For farmers in rural Uttarakhand, leaving was the only option. For thousands of people the only way to survive was to leave the villages of their childhood and eke out a living on the mean streets of Delhi. With their ancestral farms unable to sustain them and the pittance they earned at tea stalls and dhabas, these migrants were stuck between a rock and a hard place. For Divya Rawat, an Uttarakhand native, their plight was too much to bear and she decided to use her Masters in Social Work to give them a new lease on life.
When Uttarakhand was hit by floods in 2013, Divya quit her job with the NGO she had joined and returned to Dehradun where she devoted her time to restoring the ghost villages and mass unemployment in the area. Her magic solution mushrooms. She set about learning how to cultivate mushrooms as well how to train others in the process. During her research she identified the optimum growing conditions as well as the varieties that would be best suited to the area, then she devised her own methods to make the entire procedure as sustainable as possible for the villagers capabilities.
They set up bamboo racks for vertical cultivation which saved on space and materials, the three chosen varieties - button, oyster and milky mushrooms – can all be grown indoors and without air-conditioning, every aspect was tailored for success. Divya then began training people all over the state and with an investment of Rs. 50,000 families could set up their own mushroom cultivation units. Within three years the company was turning a profit, finally she could start restoration on the ghost villages.
Along with some friends, Divya identified a number of abandoned villages, those desperate for livelihood and began to set up cultivation units. These places have become primary distributors of mushrooms and the economy is thriving once more. For so many of these farmers, the switch from their original produce to mushrooms is so much more than just an interesting experiment, the rise in the price point is making a real difference to their daily lives. While a crop like potatoes would gain them about Rs. 10 per kilogram, mushrooms earn them Rs. 100 for the same amount and the cumulative profit is restoring these villages to their former glory. Though it may be a while before the many migrants who have already left feel compelled to return, for now Divya Rawat’s innovative scheme is bringing hope to this once declining farm community.