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Formalin-free mushrooms

Miguel Braganza

The fishing ban is over but Shravan has begun and so there are many who depend on non-meat protein till Ganesh Chaturthi that is still a month away. The formalin scare is still present at the back of the mind and absolutely no one would like to find traces of formalin in their mushrooms. With the collection of mushrooms restricted in the ‘Wild Life Sanctuaries’ and ‘Protected Forests’, the  arrivals of wild mushrooms has decreased to a trickle. With demand being inelastic and the supply decreasing drastically, the price was bound to increase. Yet, no one expected to pay `2000 for a hundred mushrooms, which works out to `20 per mushroom. That, unfortunately, is the price we have to pay this year. Naturally, the demand for ‘button mushrooms’ and ‘oyster mushrooms’ has gone up.

Goa is a part of the Konkan region of India, where the termitarium or anthill is worshipped as the representation of the formless goddess Sateri, also known as Kelbai, Mahamai, Tulzai or Mirabai. The name of the goddess is itself derived from the word ‘sater’ that is also called the ‘roinn’. The male termite, ‘odentus obesus’ or ‘rawlu’ is worshipped as Rawalnath and is given a free run of the land in the Dev Rai or sacred groves. The use of insecticides to kill the termites is, obviously, not a part of the culture and tradition of the Konkan, including Goa. In return, the region is blessed with the termitomyces species of mushrooms during the month of Shravan. This population of local mushrooms may increase as more and more people in Goa are beginning to practice organic farming. Till then, we have to look at the other options.

Fortunately for us, oyster mushrooms or dhingri can be grown under ambient conditions almost throughout the year, with a little difficulty during the warm months of October, April and May. They are easy to grow in the monsoons when the temperature and humidity are just right. In fact, the students of Don Bosco College of Agriculture, Sulcorna, led by Vrundan Parab in the village Neturlim have demonstrated to the villagers how to grow oyster mushrooms. The ‘mushroom laboratory’, Ela Farm multiples ‘pleurotus sajor caju’ mushroom spawn.  My former student, Prathama Rane Vernekar has only recently been transferred from this job that she handled so well for a decade. The students led by Saloni Patil stationed at Narva in Bicholim for three months under the compulsory Rural Agriculture Work Experience Programme (RAWEP) are planning to replicate the success of their senior, Vrundan Parab, who now teaches horticulture to students at class 11 and 12 students at Bhendle in Pernem. Who can resist mushrooms during the Shravan months?

A young and enterprising lady named Maxswinne Rebello, armed with an MSc in Biotechnology, has set up a unit producing pink oyster mushrooms along with their regular white version. She markets them in transparent containers where one can has a clear idea of their purchase. The pack is good even to gift to someone without any wrapping. It is guaranteed formalin-free just the way we grew mushrooms in the last millennium. The world is headed back that way. The mushroom growers in Goa would do well to discard risky chemicals and go organic. The rice growers have already begun.

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