Over the past decades, mushroom farming has helped several people in Nagaland not only have an additional income but also become full-time entrepreneurs. Given how unpredictable traditional agriculture has become off late, making money on a low-investment, high-return crop seems like a no-brainer for many people.
Lhüvevolü Rhakho, a resident of the Phek district, is yet another Nagaland resident who turned her interest in mushrooms into a full-time venture: thereby becoming a mushroom-preneur.
Growing chemical-free shiitake from over 4000 oak logs at Thüvopisü village under the Phek district, 36-year-old Rhakho is making it big in the mushroom sector, catering to mushroom lovers in the state and beyond.
Following the COVID-19-induced lockdowns, the mushroom sector in Nagaland began to bloom as entrepreneurs like Rhakho took to commercial ‘mushrooming’. Lhüvevolü Rhakho, popularly known as Avolu, began her entrepreneurial journey in 2012 when she got into the retail business. It was only in 2019 that she explored mushroom cultivation and founded ‘Native Organics’, a brand that sells all kinds of shiitake mushrooms—fresh, dried, smoked, and powdered.
“I still run the retail stores but the business that I’m most known for is Native Organics. My journey into mushroom farming began in 2019 after I trained under Dr Sosang Longkumer, who has been a constant guide and mentor in this journey. After the training, I set up a small unit to grow Shiitake mushrooms in my native village at Thüvopisü. I had no intention of selling mushrooms because I only wanted to add more variety of food items to the food table for my family,” she told EastMojo.
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That year, Rhakho witnessed a good harvest of Shiitake mushrooms. So she sent out a word to people around her and these mushrooms instantly sold out. This experience gave birth to the idea of venturing into mushroom cultivation on a commercial scale as a way to increase her earnings.
“Native Organics began during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. I noticed that people were looking towards healthier lifestyles and food, and many people were taking to gardening and growing their food. All these inspired me to come up with the idea of making DIY grow kits for oyster mushrooms. Within a few months, we managed to set up a small manufacturing unit, and we got to work. I was also selling fresh mushrooms, but they are extremely perishable so I also began to dry, package and sell a few batches,” she explained.
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Rhakho observed that mushrooms are healthy, delicious, and sustainable with many medicinal benefits. So after a few trial and error methods, products under the brand were launched via its social media platforms, receiving good responses from people.
What makes Native Organics stand out is that the shiitake mushrooms are grown on oak logs and are chemical and pesticide free.
“Along with sustainable practices, we make a conscious effort to use traditional methods of harvesting logs (pollarding) which ensure that the main tree remains standing and continues to grow. To be honest, I didn’t know a thing! I forged into this business with a passion to build and the humility needed to learn as much as possible. There is a lifetime of learning with mushrooms alone,” said Rhakho, who also trains farmers in mushroom cultivation.
The mushroom-preneur informed that at present, Native Organics is the largest individual shiitake growing company in the northeast region with over 4000 oak-logs fruiting mushrooms. Over 500 KGs of shiitakes are made per harvest, and the brand supplies restaurants across the states and the country.
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While it offers different types of shiitake mushroom products, the smoked shiitake is the most demanded item in Nagaland, she said. She also revealed that the brand is working on increasing production as bulk orders from various pharmaceutical companies are also received.
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Besides shiitake mushrooms, Oyster mushroom grow kits, sun-dried oyster mushrooms, and oyster mushroom powders are also produced. “Shiitake mushroom will not be the only focus. We will be adding new varieties of gourmet mushrooms. But Shiitake will always be our main variety,” said Rhakho.
Venturing the not-so-traditional job in a society where government jobs are much preferred, brings its own sets of challenges. “The most common challenge for entrepreneurs, including myself, would be accessibility—in terms of financing and cash flow, accessibility to government schemes and projects, accessibility to markets and supply chains, and so on. There are improvements, but the benefits have not trickled down to the grassroots. There’s still a lot to be done at all levels to improve the ease of doing business in Nagaland,” she observed.
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