Mushrooms for Money: UNDP works to alleviate poverty in rural China

10 Sep 2009

Looking pleased, farmer Liu Zehua proudly gestures toward the piles of mushrooms that his fields are now producing at an increased rate of 20 percent, thanks to a UNDP programme that has already helped a million farmers in China to ramp up production and profits while using environmentally-sound agricultural techniques.

“The mushroom project is very beneficial to us,” said Liu, who has seen the annual income he receives from the output of his Tianjin farm rise by 15 to 20 percent. “We can grow mushrooms all year round, even during the cold and chilly weather of winter.”

The initiative, a joint effort between UNDP and the Chinese Government, is linking farmers to innovative, environmentally-friendly technologies that increases their income while also ensuring sustainable agricultural practices. Participating farmers, many of whom previously produced on a subsistence-level, are also receiving assistance in putting together marketing plans that give them the ability to expand their enterprises into market-oriented, profit-making operations.

The hands-on training and technical assistance that farmers are receiving comes from local agricultural experts that are part of a so-called ‘technical taskforce’ assembled through the programme. The experts, who include university professors and scientists, receive income for the efforts, an important move that has helped educational efforts to expand in a sustainable, long-term manner.

“We provide training to local farmers in various ways,” said Guo Chengjin, a professor of plant physiology from Tianjin Normal University. “For example, we provide formal classroom training, hotline services for 24-hour technical consultations, field-site technical guidance and technical seminars.”

Farmers and the team of local experts work together in market-focused agricultural cooperatives, formed as part of the programme. As a result, new methods of planting, production and marketing are tailored to local conditions as opposed to being applied wholesale across the country, allowing for a diversity of approaches that meet the needs of farmers and rural communities in China.

Guo and his colleagues have shown Liu and other Tianjin mushroom farmers a number of new techniques that help with mushroom production. For example, farmers now allow air into their packages of mushroom seeds, which allow them to grow better; they also have learned to put cotton in with the seeds to keep germs out.

Since the first few project sites began in 2006, the project has spread throughout all of China’s 31 provinces. To date, a total of 70,000 technical experts have been sent out to work on project sites; as of 2008, one million farmers are benefitting from the programme, and have seen an average income rise of 10 percent.