Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Sonam Gyeltshen was just 20 years old when he decided to drop out of class XII in 2017 and become a farmer. He even qualified to study engineering then.

Five years later, he is one of the most successful youth who ventured into oyster mushroom farming in eastern region today.

Named as Samsara Organic Mushroom Farm in Kalapang in Saling gewog, Mongar, Sonam has his wife and father-in-law helping.

Sonam and his wife, Cheni Wangmo, 27, who took agriculture subject in school and later attended mushroom cultivation training in Zhemgang, bought spawn and sowed oyster mushrooms on trial, which fetched them Nu 50,000.

Sonam Gyeltshen making holes in the cylinders

That was their inspiration.

Locally known as the youth spawn entrepreneur, Sonam and Cheni are recognized as leading youth farmers in the eastern region who started to take up commercial oyster mushroom farming in 2018.

Three years into the business, they produced and sold about 2,000 bottles of spawn in the locality and in Bumthang.

A bottle with 450gm of spawn is sold at Nu 80 without delivery and Nu 100 with delivery or transportation earning an income between Nu 160,000 to 200,000 annually in the last three years. 

Sonam has also marketed more than a tonne of fresh oyster mushroom worth Nu 300,000 in the local markets of Gyalpoizhing and Lingmethang vegetable market, Gyalpoizhing College of Information and Technology and Mongar town.

A kilogramme of mushroom fetches him between Nu 250 to 300.

Often called a ‘mushroom man’ by customers in the town, he markets the mushroom in a bolero camper he owns and sells door to door sometimes.

Back in Kalapang, he is popular as ‘Samsara’ derived from his farm’s name as most village folks are not familiar with his name since he is from Tsamang village and not from Kalapang.

He believes his success was because of a lead farmer’s training he had received from Agriculture research and development center (ARDC), Wengkhar in 2019 followed by spawn production training at agriculture research and development sub-center (ARDSC) in Khangma, Trashigang.

Sonam Gyeltshen said the demand for both spawn and mushroom products are high in the market and he plans to expand the size of the farm this season.

As a back up to mushroom farming, he has also initiated integrated farming in one and half acres of land with vegetables with the vegetables like winter chili, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, and fruits like pineapple and mango.

Until last year, he had sold 2,480kg of mix vegetables worth Nu 133,000 and about 1,500kg of pineapple worth Nu 75,000 and 560kg of mango, which helped him generate Nu 33,600.

Meanwhile, Sonam has invested the income generated so far for developing a laboratory in the ground floor of his house after renovation and repayment of loan.

The laboratory is supported by Commercial Agriculture Resilient Livelihoods Enhancement programme (CARLEP- IFAD) with equipment like autoclave, lamina flour, a 10-liter rice cooker, refrigerator and a panel heater worth Nu 500,000 while the ARDC, Wengkhar, provided technical support.

“I’m indebted to the government for what I have received from free education in the school and all assistance even today,” he said.

He claimed he does not regret dropping out of school. “I made the right decision. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Today, agriculture officials hire Sonam as a resource person sometimes and he said he shares whatever experiences and knowledge he gained to other aspiring youth. “Farming not only helps to generate employment but also helps achieve food self-sufficiency and generate good income.”

A seven-member youth group in Bumthang has also just begun oyster mushroom spawn production recently. The entrepreneurs are processing about 1,000 bottles of spawn in the initial stage.

Three university graduates, one class XII, two class X and a class VIII dropped out are running the farm.

Members said spawns would be first tried in their production unit on trial and then only market them. They are ready with the straw.

One of the members, Tshering Namgay, a technical graduate from India, who stayed with his parents after graduation in 2017 as there was none to help them, said the unemployed youth who were staying idly for 11 months after a month long engagement in cordyceps collection came together with a collective effort to develop a model farm in the district to generate income and sustain their livelihood.

He said given the location in high altitude growing vegetables is less feasible and oyster mushroom spawn production and mushroom cultivation are the best options.

The group plans to expand the farm both in terms of mushroom cultivation and by growing highland cereals in future.

Bumthang dzongkhag, with the financial support from small development grant from India and technical assistance from ARDSC, Khangma, helped establish the unit at Thangbi in Choekhor gewog.

The youth received spawn production training in Khangma in December, 2020.

The ARDSC has trained six youth in the region for spawn production over the years of which three have given up while two are yet to see their production.

Edited by Tashi Dema