Partnership: The University of the Ryukyus, Japan and the National Mushroom Centre (NMC) signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday to boost commercial mushroom farming in five dzongkhags.

JICA chief representative Koji Yamada and government officials signed the minutes of meeting between the University of the Ryukyus, Japan and NMC on the Japanese technical cooperation for the improvement of mushroom production in western Bhutan.

The three-year project begins next month.

NMC programme director, Dawa Penjor said such an initiative was long overdue.

Bhutan today imports 90 percent of its mushrooms from India and Thailand. The rest is produced locally.

With only seven technical staff and a few of them on study leave the centre is confronted with inadequate human resources and poor laboratories. “As the job entails mostly physical work, so it’s not attractive,” the NMC programme director, Dawa Penjor said.

Mushroom farms today grow Matsutake and oyster varieties, NMC officials said.

Commercial mushroom growing has fluctuated over the years – it started in the 1990s – in absence of consistent support from the government in terms of technical and training needs of the growers.

Subsequently it affected the development of the value chain of the product.

“In the past three years, more people are taking up growing mushrooms,” Dawa Penjor said.

There are 500 mushroom units in the country today and most of them are small-scale units at homes. Only about 20 are full-time farms.

Agriculture director general Nim Dorji said the project will go a long way in the effort and pursuit of self-food sufficiency.

The project will produce manuals for farmers, extension agents and NMC staff for better mushroom farming and produce improved quality spawns.

It will improve the knowledge and technologies of farmers, extension officers and NMC staff.

University of the Ryukyus will send mushroom cultivation experts to assist NMC for quality spawn production, to train the NMC staff and extension officers for efficient technologies for mushroom cultivation and to help in strengthening the extension systems of mushroom cultivation. The university will also train NMC staff and agriculture extension officers (AEO) in Japan.

The centre will produce spawns that are expensive while the growers will produce those that are commercially viable.

The project will cover about 800 mushroom growers in Punakha, Paro, Wangdue, Thimphu, and Chukha.

The project will provide training on mushroom spawn production, formulate spawn production guidelines, monitor newly introduced spawn for farmers, and prepare teaching materials for AEOs,

Providing adequate and quality mushroom spawn to farmers is important to improve commercial mushroom farming in the country, Dawa Penjor said.

The Japanese experts will assist NMC staff for bed-log and cultivation of Shiitake, cultivation of Pleurotus spp. and other wild mushrooms, as well as production of Matsutake mushrooms.

“The concern right now is the quality of mushrooms, until we provide value addition to the new products it’ll be difficult for farmers to make good income,” Koji Yamada said.

Dawa Penjor said the centre has plans to expand to promote more edible and medicinal mushrooms.

The centre will focus on the supply chain and consolidation of market for mushrooms.

“If the viability of the project is proved, there is opportunity to upscale the project in the future,” Koji Yamada said.

Tshering Palden