By Christine Campeau
If you were a farmer with a nine months growing season, how would you feed your family during the other 3 months of the year? One option would be to purchase food. But what if you had no money? Some farmers sell off their livestock for food, but what if you didn’t have any livestock to sell? Farmers may be able to borrow from their community, but then that leaves them indebted and constantly struggling to keep their heads above water.
For farmers in Krapeur Troum village, a village commune approximately 25km from Phnom Penh in Cambodia, the solution came in the form of a fungus. Mushroom growing, which can be done throughout the year in combination with their seasonal farming, offers a secure source of income to buy the basic necessities during the lean period. So what’s the secret recipe?
‘Firstly,’ explains the local organic farmer ‘you need to soak rice straw for 1-2 days to make it easier to cut. Then you need to add 10kg rice bran, 1kg of calcium carbonate, 2 tbsp IMO solution and 10 liters of water.’ This mix is the foundation of the mulch that will be used to grow the mushrooms.
‘Once this is mixed together, it needs to be covered in plastic and sit for 3 days and 3 nights and voila, mulch for mushrooms. Fill plastic bags with the mulch, tie the bag closed and steam the package for 3-4 hours to sterilize the mulch. Once completed, wait 24 hours to cool before inserting the mushroom seed.’
Now it’s growing time. ‘Place the mushroom bags in a cool area and water 2-4 times a day according to the climate.’ Once finished, one bag can produce 1 kg of mushroom, which is equal to $1 USD. One bag will also produce 5-6 times more seeds so that the farmer can begin the process once again.
In addition to mushroom growing, the farmers highlighted an additional safeguard: the need to vaccinate small chickens on a regular basis so that they will survive the rainy season. Healthy chickens can then be given to the community farm bank. A needy family can borrow 4 chickens from the bank and, once they reproduce, give back 5-6 chickens back to the community.
These two methods allow Cambodian farmers a ways to provide for themselves during the lean period from October – December. Farmers across Asia can learn from Cambodian farmers and be empowered to recreate the same achievements on their own lands.