Pioneer project on mushroom-growing for disabled people in Thailand - a first for FAO

Countries in the Asia-Pacific Region have designated 1993-2002 as the Decade for the Disabled - ten years to sensitize the region to the problems of millions of disabled men, women and children. Statistics are hard to come by, but available data show that one to three percent of the adult population in the region are disabled. In China alone, there were 50 million disabled people in 1985, more than 8 million of them younger than 14.

Mushrooms for cash: a simple technology now to be introduced in Thailand for disabled people
An estimated 80 to 90 percent of Asia's disabled live in rural areas, many of them in extreme poverty. Agro-industrial enterprises have been identified as a field in which they can earn much needed cash. A pioneer project to train disabled people to grow and sell mushrooms is being set up by FAO and the Government of Thailand.

Lawrie Jacobson, FAO Human Resources Officer for Disability Matters, said, "It's very exciting because it's a first for FAO. If it works successfully, there is no reason why it can't work in other parts of Thailand and in other countries of the region". Jacobson, himself disabled, has been campaigning for disabled people for 17 years.

Thailand takes care of its disabled

Thailand - where the disabled population is estimated at about 1.1 million - is one of the few countries in Asia that is taking concrete steps to support and rehabilitate this vulnerable sector of society. Many disabled people are employed in vocational training centres, but the government is also using tax and legislative incentives to encourage NGOs and the private sector to train and employ disabled people.

Mushrooms are almost a staple food in Thailand, traditionally eaten at most meals. Their market price is well above that of most other horticultural products. Mushroom cultivation has been identified as appropriate for people with a wide range of disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs. An in-depth study by a mushroom consultant has confirmed the suitability of the project, showing that:

  • mushrooms can be grown in all areas of Thailand;
  • seed and growing medium are available at reasonable cost;
  • most varieties come into production after two to four months;
  • if marketing is a problem in remote areas, the product can be dried and marketed when transport is available;
  • since most mushrooms grow best in the dark, the grower works inside and is protected from the elements.

Psychological satisfaction for the growers also ranks high on the list of reasons why the project is desirable.

Meeting discusses income-generating activities for rural disabled

A recent Round Table Meeting on the Integration of Disabled People in Agricultural and Agro-industry Systems, held in Bangkok in May, discussed income-generating opportunities for the rural disabled of the region. With FAO sponsorship, nine specialists from six countries - Bangladesh, Cambodia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam - participated in the meeting, presenting papers on a range of issues. Eiichi Takada of Japan, who is hearing impaired, spoke on Sensorially Disabled People in Rural Areas of Japan. Cyril Siriwardene, from Sri Lanka, himself motor disabled, covered Motor and Upper Limb Disabled People in the Agricultural Industry in the Region. And Prayat Punong-ong, himself visually impaired, spoke on Blind Disabled People and the Thai Rural Economy. The status of motor disabled people in Cambodia, where decades of war, millions of land mines and poverty have resulted in one of the highest proportions of disabled people in the world, was also covered.

4 July 1997

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