One wild mushroom at a time
When she was a little girl, Nilanthi Kumarasinghe would fill a bowl with salt and chilli powder and head into the forest. Her parents were worried it was unsafe, but to her those were halcyon days. She and the other children ran wild, spending lazy afternoons climbing trees to pluck fruit, both sweet and tart; laughing and talking as they ate them with chilli powder.
“We grew up relying on the resources of the forest. We found things there that we could not find anywhere else,” Nilanthi remembers, describing how her father used to return from his forays into the woods with large baskets of wild mushrooms.
Their neighbours would bring home fruits, honeycomb and medicinal herbs.
Now 42-years old, Nilanthi is married and lives with her family in Mahakirindegama, a village near Mihintale in Anuradhapura.
Her mushrooms come not from the forest but from a little shed behind her house. The seeds are grown in sawed-off PVC bottles, each container filled with a combination of mango wood dust, magnesium sulphate, calcium carbonate, soya and gram flour and gypsum to hold it all together. She uses only organic fertilizers to keep pests at bay and swears by fermented garlic juice.
Each container in her shed yields about 750 grams of mushrooms before it must be replaced.
"Her product is in demand, all her neighbours buy from her, and she also supplies the local shops. In total, in a good month she earns Rs. 40,000."
For every 200 grams of oyster mushrooms Nilanthi makes Rs.60; abalones get her a little more, at Rs.80 per pack. Her product is in demand, all her neighbours buy from her, and she also supplies the local shops. In total, in a good month she earns Rs. 40,000.
Training and supplies from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped her kick-start what is today a thriving business.
The Community Forestry Project is funded by AusAid and implemented by the Department of Forestry in collaboration with UNDP. It was initiated to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in the dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka.
" In total, an estimated 10,000 households enjoyed direct benefits from the project, with indirect beneficiaries estimated to be some 90,000 people."
Field operations began in 2012, with the project being rolled out across 17 districts. 23,000 ha of forests were replanted in 167 sites and productivity was enhanced in over 3,000 home gardens. As part of the support to the Department of Forestry, motorbikes and computers were provided to field offices, thereby helping to improve their capacity and access.
In total, an estimated 10,000 households enjoyed direct benefits from the project, with indirect beneficiaries estimated to be some 90,000 people.
“We, the women in this area, are the ones sustaining this project,” says Nilanthi with pride.