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Oyster mushroom cultivation spurs income for Laos farmers

FAO project conserves agro-biodiversity and improves livelihoods. 

Key facts

Lao PDR is rich in biodiversity, and Lao people make use of agro-biodiversity resources for food, medicine and income on a daily basis. Yet, this resource is under threat from changing agricultural and land use practices, including overexploitation. An agro-biodiversity project is currently underway to ensure that agro-biodiversity is incorporated in national policies and that Lao farmers continue to benefit from the biodiversity present in their farming systems. Technically supported by FAO and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the project has guided policy formulation since 2011. As part of this larger initiative, training has been provided to farmers in Phonxay district in the cultivation of oyster mushrooms. The project started in October 2014 when a mushroom cultivation group was formed and has been receiving technical input from FAO as well as the local technical service centre.

Connecting farmers to high-value markets
Ms. Vieng, 32, can now proudly say that she is a mushroom farmer. She smiles while showing an oyster mushroom from a bag she learned to prepare after participating in a training on mushroom cultivation together with her group in Huayman, her native village in Phonexay District, Lao PDR.

Along with three other village groups, she and seven other villagers from Huayman joined the cultivation group in October 2014. From the onset, they learned how to prepare raw material with guidance from the technical service centre located in the neighbouring village of Nambor.

Farmers in the area have a long tradition of collecting wild mushrooms for consumption, but they knew little about how to cultivate them. The newly formed mushroom groups went on a study trip to learn from two other successful mushroom farmers in Luang Prabang. They quickly realized that oyster mushrooms are easily sold in the Luang Prabang markets at a price of 20-25 000 Kip per kg (US$ 2.5 - 3).

So when the technical service centre facilitators, in partnership with an expert from the Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Vientiane, suggested offering training to villagers to cultivate oyster mushrooms, they saw an opportunity.

One year has passed since Ms. Vieng joined the group. “As a result of the training our group has produced 1.5 tons of oyster mushrooms and now I spend less time in the surrounding forests looking for food,” she says. The group has sold mushrooms totalling 20 million kip (USD 2 500) of which 60% is deposited in a local bank. Many villagers, like Ms. Vieng, now have an extra income to better support their livelihoods and their children.

Although the oyster mushroom is an easy species to cultivate much attention needs to be paid to avoid contamination at every step of the process, from sterilization of bagged raw material and inoculation, to keeping the houses clean.

“Huayman village is performing wonderfully because the villagers understood the simple sanitary rules they need to follow like how to maintain optimal humidity through regular watering in the growing house.  This has been the key to their success,” says, Ms. Viengkham, expert from the Department of Agriculture.

The oyster mushroom cultivation groups in Phonexay District have sparked the interest and motivation of other villagers in the area. Mr. Hounpheng is a farmer who lives in Panma village, around 18 kilometres from the Nambor Technical Service Center. “When I learned about the groups, I asked the organizers to let me join and attend one training session and now I know how to properly cultivate mushrooms,” he says.

The mushroom cultivation groups will see their third harvest in 2016 and thereafter they are expected to produce without the need of additional technical assistance.

Policies for food security and agricultural development
A strong partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has positioned FAO as a trusted partner to support the development of key policies in the country. At the beginning of 2015, FAO collaborated with the World Bank in the formulation of the Government’s strategic action and investment plan to implement the new national rice policy. This intervention included advice on sustainable approaches to food security through increased production and trade and export development.

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