Posted September 2000
Annex 1: Layout of mushroom cultivation center
Annex 2: Buildings and equipment
Annex 3: Main steps in mushroom cultivation
Annex 4: Contributors to the project's success
This training program allows people with disabilities to develop entrepreneurial skills in mushroom cultivation that will allow them to become self-sufficient by receiving regular income. It will further prove to disabled people as well as to their family and community members that they are fully capable of accomplishing something by themselves and become economically self-reliant. For the first few days of training, motivational sessions prepare trainees for the months to come. These sessions are important for trainees to know more about themselves, to learn about others and their disabilities, and to learn to accept what they are and how they are through positive thinking. They also have to be convinced that they "CAN DO" what they want if they set their mind to it. They must set their own limits and not let other people tell them what they can and cannot do. These sessions make trainees feel like they are part of a larger family. They learn about basic morale and dining habits; how to select good and value added products. They learn to pray, to meditate, and to exercise their body and mind through songs, plays and creative games. They learn to love.
Then comes the training on mushroom cultivation. A specific training program was developed in order to offer a maximum hands-on experience to trainees. Total training for each group of trainees is 60 days. Although some theory is necessary, hands-on experience and practice remains the best learning method. Many people with disabilities living in rural areas were not allowed advanced studies and can barely read and write. They need to "LEARN BY DOING". During this time, activities are intense and even sometimes physically demanding for some trainees who are physically weaker. They need to understand every step involved in mushroom cultivation. Mushroom bags can be purchased either at the center or from other mushroom producers (at a higher price). It is therefore possible for a trainee to decide to only grow and sell mushrooms while others may be interested in making their own mushroom bags and even grow their own spawns. It will be up to the potential and interest of each trainee to decide to what extent he or she will be involved in the mushroom production business.
Certain tasks require physical and mental abilities and therefore special strategies and techniques had to be developed to cater specific disabilities. For example, the preparation of mushroom bags requires the use of two hands. However, feet can substitute a missing hand, which allows a trainee to accomplish the task perfectly. Repetition of movement and special techniques are required; this is the focus of training.
Unlike non-agricultural activities, agriculture and farming require long hours. In order to prepare the sale of products on the market, it is necessary to wake up very early morning to collect mushrooms and prepare for sale on the market. Harvesting should be done twice a day in order to collect mushrooms at the right size. If too small, it is not feasible. If too big, mushrooms are not so tasty and sweet. The right moment will ensure that customers will come back for more and will become regular if not daily buyers.
Several types of mushrooms can be cultivated; some more difficult than others. Selecting the type of mushrooms should be in accordance with local demand and climatic conditions. At the center, those selected are het Nangrom, Nangfa (Oyster mushrooms), het Khonkao, het Lom, het Fang (Straw mushrooms), and het Hoo Noo (Ear mushrooms).
Marketing plays a major role in an enterprise since the objective is to sell a product as to generate income. Local markets, especially in the Ubon Ratchathani area, generally have a shortage of mushrooms; mushrooms are consumed on a daily basis. At present, there are no difficulties marketing since most trainees can sell their production within their community. With the increasing number of mushroom growers, special care needs to be given as to avoid too many trainees from a same community. When fresh mushrooms cannot be marketed easily because of readily available wild mushrooms during the rainy season, (two to four months); mushrooms can be processed and converted into snacks, candies, chili paste, and many other delicious processed foods.
Invited guests specialized in mushroom cultivation were highly appreciated and regarded as "best references" since they have hands-on experience in mushroom cultivation. Successful entrepreneurs were highly regarded and respected since they speak the same language coming from a same or similar community. What better way of learning than to learn by example. A list of invited guest speakers can be found in Annex 4.
Training groups should remain small enough to allow a close relationship between trainees and trainers. A ratio of 5 / 1 or 6 / 1 is good since it allows a direct and personal approach for better understanding of what is required. It also gives time for trainers to develop new strategies with trainees in accomplishing those tasks that are more difficult. Mixed groups of men and women collaborated, exchanged ideas and helped each other when required. Trainees all learned from each other and respected one another.