Suman Maharjan is a mushroom farmer who was introduced to me via acquaintances as ‘the Mushroom Don of Nepal.’ I was, since then, very keen on meeting Suman and knowing more about his business. One of the 10 companies in the third batch of Rockstart Impact, Suman is the founder of Mush Nepal and is one of the most dedicated entrepreneurs that I have personally come across till date.
Suman grew up in Balambu which is famously known as the mushroom village of Nepal. Suman elaborates – ‘I grew up in a family and a community of mushroom farmers. The idea of farming mushroom for business was not talked of because of the seasonal nature of the yield. I automatically went into the same line of business once I was of age. In 2012, I officially started farming mushrooms as a business and the various difficulties I faced often left me frustrated and made me feel unproductive at times.’
Even though there are 1200 dedicated mushroom farmers in Nepal who are capable of producing up to 90 lakh kilos a year, the old school process that is being implemented by mushroom farmers makes mushroom a seasonal product. Seasonal because the mushroom just grows during winter making it difficult for farmers to work on the fluctuating weather that Nepal offers. Suman shares, ‘I started to look for possibilities of making mushroom grow all year round because with the seasonal mushroom farming, I was sure that it would be difficult for the mushroom industry to grow in Nepal. Even the farmers who have been involved with mushroom farming for the past 35 years are still using old techniques and do not know how to implement advanced techniques of production. It was then that I stepped in and gave it 100% to see if technology can be a solution. With limited to no support from the government, it was high time that I had to step up my game and start a revolution in Nepali farming.’
Suman adds, ‘To further educate myself, I visited mushroom resource centres in India and China to know more and to educate myself about modern farming techniques. After my visits to two of the biggest players in the mushroom farming industry; China and India, I realized that introducing modern technology was not impossible in Nepal.’ Suman initiated the establishment of Indreni Mushroom Farm Public limited in Chitlang as a collaborative effort between 49 mushroom farmers. It follows the new technology of mushroom farming and produces mushrooms all year long. While the mushroom farm was growing in full scale, Suman saw the void for quality seeds in Nepal. He elaborates, ‘I invested 2 crores of my own and invested in Nepal’s first seeds lab for mushroom which I hope will be seen as a model lab by all of farmers. I initiated that to fill the void of quality seeds in Nepal. As of now, the farmers do not have any options but to use the seeds available in the market which are often too raw or over-matured making the farmers lose on productive yield .’
There will be no development in the mushroom industry unless we introduce new technology and make people familiar with it. Farmers complain about the seed and the distributors right now are often providing the farmers with either raw or over matured seeds which do not result in the best quality plant but the farmers do not have any other option. There are just three types of mushrooms that have been introduced in Nepal till date and on visiting China, I realized that there are so many more types that fit the climate of Nepal. And even if the produce is not sold, there are countless opportunities of preserving it in different forms as chips, pickle, or dry soup. But unless the government decides to step up their game, the farmers will not be educated and they will not get a chance to step out of the old school practices that are still prevalent in Nepal.
First published in The Himalayan Times, 25/12/2016