How this Jaipur professor set up Rs 1 crore mushroom business

Annu Kanawat began oyster mushroom cultivation on a trial basis in 2020. Her startup Aamlda Organic Foods is now set to clock Rs1 crore in revenues. She trains farmers and women for free in mushroom farming, which requires an investment of less than Rs500

Rashmi Pratap
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Annu Kanawat began oyster mushroom cultivation on a trial basis in 2020

Annu Kanawat began oyster mushroom cultivation on a trial basis in 2020

When Annu Kanawat was working as an assistant professor of Agribusiness at a university in Jaipur, Rajasthan, she accompanied her students to Dehradun for a training programme. They went to a mushroom training centre where the students learned about its cultivation and processing. The visit familiarized Annu with a potential business opportunity, something she had been dreaming of for years. 

However, despite an entrepreneurial mind since childhood, she did not get any opportunity to realise her potential. 

“I come from a conservative upper-class family of Sisodia Rajputs in Bhilwara, Rajasthan. The girls here are not very educated and I faced opposition when I expressed my desire to study after class 12th,” she says.

“However, since I was adamant, my family said if I get selected into a good university then they would allow me to study,” says Annu.

After her 12th, she appeared for the Rajasthan Joint Entrance Test (JET) for agriculture and secured the first position. Her family then allowed her to pursue a BSc from Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology in Udaipur. “After that, I was selected for an MBA in agribusiness management. During that period, an internship in Bayer CropScience in Gujarat opened my eyes to the possibilities of contract farming and other avenues of good income for farmers,” she says.

Professor-turned-entrepreneur Annu Kanawat during a training programme. Pic: Aamlda Organic Foods

But before Annu could launch any enterprise, she was married in 2016. “My husband (Parakrama Singh) allowed me to work and I joined as an assistant professor in the university at Jaipur,” she says.

Also Read: How this Odisha man became a mushroom millionaire with Rs 36 investment; has trained over 10 lakh people

The seed of an idea

After the Dehradun trip in 2018, Annu decided to grow button mushrooms due to their large market potential and limited availability in Rajasthan. She began to research more about their cultivation. “I felt the process was easy. Some rooms were vacant at my maternal home in Amalda village, Bhilwara. I started my trial on a small scale there. I ordered spawns (seeds) of button mushroom online, and the produce was good,” she recollects.

She sold the mushrooms for Rs1.5 lakh but was not too happy with the long growth cycle. 

“Button mushrooms are ready in four months but the process is much shorter in oyster mushrooms, which are ready in 45 days. So I decided to cultivate the oyster variety,” she says.

Annu again procured the mushroom spawns online from Dehradun and made compost, the base for the growth of mushrooms, using locally available wheat straw. “I prepared 1,000 bags of oyster mushrooms. The production was good but before I could harvest them, the COVID-19 lockdown hit and I was left with a bumper crop left unsold,” she recollects.

annu kanawat
Annu Kanawat and her mushroom-based products. Pic: Aamlda Organic Foods

Since the markets were shut, Annu had to think about some method to use the produce. “I had read about the nutritional benefits of oyster mushrooms. So I dried them, made a powder and began giving it for free to women from our village,” Annu says. Soon, the women began to come back for more. 

Oyster mushrooms are rich in fibre, minerals, vitamins B and D, and other nutrients. High in antioxidants, they regulate blood sugar levels, improve heart health, and boost immunity. 

“Women suffering from aches or other health disorders reported rapid improvement in their condition due to the mushroom powder supplement. The results gave me the confidence to create a business out of it,” the woman entrepreneur says.

Also Read: Jaipur’s MBA dropout succeeds with mushroom seeds business; earns Rs13 lakh monthly revenues

The business of mushrooms

Annu took the trade mark for this first product – Shroom Lady, targeted at women and set off on her entrepreneurial journey with Aamlda Organic Foods and Research Centre, named after her village. “This product (Shroom Lady) is for women and comes in three variants – with beetroot and in chocolate and vanilla flavours. We have similar mushroom-based products for men and children,” she says. 

Her firm now offers 20 products, which are sold online through Aamlda’s Facebook and Instagram pages. “We will also start selling through our own website later this month,” Annu says.

Oyster mushrooms are ready in 45 days. Pic: Aamlda Organic Foods 

To expand her market and revenues, she will launch products using Cordyceps mushroom, which has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and is said to improve immunity and energy levels besides having other benefits.

“Cordyceps mushroom is currently sold in the Indian market at Rs3 lakh per kg. We are working on a low-cost technology to bring down the production cost. I am targeting to sell it at around Rs1.5 lakh per kg,” Annu says.

“Eventually, over time, I will try to bring down the price further,” she adds.

For processing, Annu procures mushrooms from 30 farmers across Rajasthan. “While 20 farmers grow regularly for us, we place orders with 10 farmers on a need basis,” she says.

Also Read: How this Gwalior professor became a successful mushroom entrepreneur

Aamlda Organic Foods has also received funding of Rs15 lakh from the Ministry of Agriculture’s RKVY-RAFTAAR Scheme, which focuses on the development of agriculture and allied sectors. “We will use the funds for marketing to expand our online presence,” she says.

Aamlda Organic Foods is targeting a turnover of Rs1 crore in the next fiscal. 

Empowering women and farmers

But for Annu, increasing revenues is not the primary goal. “I aim to empower as many women as possible and bring down costs of healthy foods so that more and more people can access them,” she says.

Currently, Aamlda Organics grows mushrooms for processing into products and also trains farmers in their cultivation. “I have trained over 1,000 people for free in oyster and button mushroom cultivation besides conducting certified training programmes for around 3,000 students. There is a fee of Rs1500 per person for students’ training. I don’t charge farmers, women and students from poor socio-economic backgrounds,” says Annu, who also gives training to students in the Central Government’s Navodaya Vidyalayas.

Students visiting Aamlda centre to learn about mushroom farming and processing. Pic: Aamlda Organic Foods

She encourages people towards mushroom entrepreneurship as it is a low-investment business and the market demand is good. 

“Anyone can start mushroom farming with an investment of less than Rs500,” she says.

“The rate of oyster spawn is Rs120 per kg and you can mix these seeds with wheat straw and create 10 bags of oyster mushrooms,” she says. The wheat straw is boiled and cooled and mushroom seeds are mixed into it. This mixture can be filled into 10 plastic bags. “After 45 days, the production will be around 30 kg of oyster mushrooms,” she says.

At a wholesale market rate of around Rs 350 per kg, the income will be over Rs10,000 with an investment of under Rs500. “This way, mushroom entrepreneurs can grow them for personal consumption and sharing with friends and family as well,” Annu points out. 

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

Also Read: How two brothers in Agra earn Rs2 lakh daily from mushroom farming

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