Mushroom cultivation is an age-old practice across the globe. China, Japan, US, UK, Italy, Poland and Germany are among the largest producers worldwide.

Mushrooms are a type of fungi that grow by way of an ever expanding network of white filaments – forming mycelia (the vegetative part of the fungi) – in moisture- and nutrition-rich environments. Known to be both nutritious and medicinal, they are traded extensively.

Though mushrooms of various shapes and sizes grow naturally in abundance, more intentional, scientific methods are implemented to boost quantity and quality of the produce by mushroom farmers worldwide. In a sterile ‘Lab-like’ environment, propagation of mycelia in containers containing grains is facilitated. Grains colonized by mycelia are called Spawns.

Spawns are to mushrooms what seeds are to plants.

Refrigerated spawns can have a shelf life of 2-3 months, creating a market for farmers who can’t produce spawns themselves.

As plants need soil, mushrooms also need a substrate for nutrition. Sawdust, manure and straw are common substrates, although selection of substrate depends on the mushrooms being grown. Substrates are sterilised before introducing spawns to the mix, to remove bacteria and microorganisms that may damage the spawns.

Technical expertise in spawn production results in better quality and quantity of mushroom produce, and capital requirement for spawn production is higher than any other part of the process.

Across India, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Tripura are some of the larger producer states.

Scientists and researchers associated with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research have made strides in improving and simplifying mushroom cultivation for farmers and entrepreneurs for some years now.
Dr Sosang Longkumer of Nagaland, after dedicating years to research and experimentation under CSIR and the ICAR Naga Lab, is one such individual.

Shiitake mushrooms (native to East Asia) are valued as medicine and nutrient and are heavily imported in India. The use of hardwood trees like oak as the substrate is known to enhance quality and flavour of the produce.

With ICAR, the Department of Horticulture and the Nagaland government promoting programs for mushroom farming, Dr Longkumer now plays a central role in the cultivation of shiitake, oyster mushrooms and others in Nagaland.

Some key insights from Dr Longkumer’s are:

  • Nagaland forests are dominated by hardwood trees such as Chestnut, Oak and Alder
  • Nagaland’s laws allow forest land to be used for income generation activities
  • Shiitake cultivation in India is best suited to Nagaland
  • Besides Spawn production, the other steps require low investment to give quick returns and can be taken on as a full time activity or as an alternative source of income.

Dr Longkumer supplies spawns from his personal spawn production laboratory located in Kashiram village, Dimapur, Nagaland. He also provides step-by-step instructions to people interested in growing shiitake and other mushrooms, actively communicating with farmers via Whatsapp groups, sharing information, feedback and reviews to support them.

In an interview with Morung Express he advises mushroom cultivators of Nagaland to care for the environment while using the hardwood forests. This is to be done by cutting branches from healthy trees rather than cutting entire trees.

With Nagaland picking up cultivation of Shiitake, maybe one day it will not just meet India’s domestic demand but also lead in exports.

Also see: Mushroom Farming for Beginners