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Bright prospects for mushroom exports

The growing demand for mushroom exports have encouraged all types of entrepreneurs to grow mushrooms indigenously

May 14 - 20, 2001

Mention mushroom to anyone here in Pakistan and the chances are that the answer would be a loud 'what?' It is not that Pakistanis are not familiar with mushroom the umbrella-shaped vegetation growing under the trunk of a tree, among sparse vegetation, and sprinkled between grass after the rains. But the familiarity ends there as mushroom occupies no any place in the local kitchen and culinary delights.

However, the umbrella-shaped fungus with a little stalk tickles the taste-buds of millions around the world. Treated as a delicacy, and favoured for its flavour, what gives mushroom its food value is that it contains proteins and several vitamins on the one hand and no cholesterol on the other. How more favourable can the description be?

Unknown to the mushroom-indifferent populace, mushroom is playing a significant role in the national economics by earning a substantial foreign exchange from exports. Unknown to many, it is the major contributor to the overall vegetables exports.

In 1998-99 Pakistan exported some 79 tonnes mushroom the value of which was $ 4.49 million. In 1999-2000, mushroom exports registered an increase of 53 per cent over the previous year by earning a foreign exchange of $ 6.90 million. Not only the increase in the value of mushroom exports was phenomenal but mushroom export also contributed over 18 per cent to the overall vegetables exports of $ 38 million the same year. The importance of mushroom in the overall vegetables exports can hardly be over-stated.

Saying that there is no demand for the mushroom in the domestic market would not be entirely true as it is used in food preparations in five-star hotels, Chinese restaurants and pizza chains. However, its use still remains off-limit in the mainstream cookery, home cooking and culinary world. Only a negligible portion of the mushroom produced locally is used within the country while the bulk of it is finds it way into the international markets.

According to chairman of Fruits, Vegetables Processors and Exporters Association, Mateen Siddiqui, less than one per cent of the mushroom produced in the country is consumed locally while the rest of the over 99 per cent is exported to help boost overall vegetables exports.

The increasing demand for exports, and the premium prices which it fetches, have encouraged many to grow mushroom commercially on farms including, but not limited, to state-owned National Logistics Cell in and around the federal capital Islamabad. However, sources told PAGE, farmed mushrooms make up only a fraction of total exports. This is due primarily to two reasons: number one, the commercial production is just enough to meet the local demand, small as it is, and number two, the ideal climate, rich soil and just the right altitude 10,000-12,000 feet in the North West Frontier Province favourable for the wild growth.

Farmed production contribute less than one per cent to overall mushroom exports while the rest comes from the natural production in the NWFP. It may be safe to say that without the natural/wild quantity growth in the NWFP there would have been no mushroom exports from Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that although NWFP alone supply the stocks to meet the demand of mushroom exports, the business is monopolised by a handful of exporters in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad some one dozen in numbers. This is primarily so as the business savvy exporters are better informed and travelled to understand the financial benefits of mushroom exports over the less or uneducated mushroom. Who says that ignorance is a bliss?

Mushroom is a seasonal vegetable, grown best during the monsoon season as it requires substantial water to let its bulb grow to adequate size and weight. The stalks are shorter and less weighty than the bulb which is considered as the most savoury part. Mushrooms are exported both in fresh and dried forms. However, the former far surpasses the later not only in term of quantity but also in price as fresh mushrooms fetch higher prices in the international markets.

The growing demand for mushroom exports and the windfall which it promises, not to mention a small domestic market which is eager to pay a premium price, have encouraged all types of entrepreneurs to grow mushrooms indigenously. There are many who grow it at their homes in Karachi in plastic bags lined with cotton waste soaked in water. The cotton once soaked remains moist for quite sometime to turn seeds into full grown mushrooms over a period of 3 to 5 weeks. The seeds are available at the main markets here in the city.

So remember to look up for fresh mushrooms the next time you happen to visit Empress Market. You may also be able to buy them at many super stores soaked in liquid and preserved in cans as well as in dried form. Grill them, fry them, mix them with meat, throw them in soups and add them in omelets the choicea are not only unlimited but can also be extremely succulent.