Organic mushrooms may seem like an unlikely solution to poaching and illegal logging, but Freeland Foundation is championing this low-impact crop as a viable eco-friendly option for villagers living around protected areas in Northeastern Thailand. With support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Freeland’s Surviving Together program is training former poachers to cultivate organic mushrooms, then seeding and nurturing their businesses with small loans, wholesaling and marketing support.
Many individuals have benefited from the program and are now able to make their living in a sustainable manner. As one graduate of Freeland’s training program, Boonrod Muangchan, says: “Once I started my own business growing mushrooms I started to get a steady income. I love the forest, I want to protect it. I feel sorry for what I did in the past.”
Drawing on the knowledge of its Thai trainers, Surviving Together has just published a practical guide to growing mushrooms organically. Available in Thai and English, the manual covers topics from nurturing spores and building barns, to dealing with pests without chemicals, and recycling materials. This publication is designed to help spread the uptake and benefits of sustainable, low-impact, organic agriculture.
Organic Oyster, Shitake and Yanagi mushrooms being sold at local markets are in such high demand that farmers simply can’t grow enough. Freeland is trying to increase sales to higher value urban markets in Bangkok, banking on restaurants and consumers willing to support organic produce that helps conserve nature and alleviate rural poverty.
The pilot has been successful in propagating forest-friendly alternative livelihoods and measurably reducing poaching in nearby forests. It was even highlighted as a top global sustainability solution at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil earlier this year.
Freeland is seeking partners and sources of micro-finance to help replicate the successful pilot along the border of the vast Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex and around other vulnerable landscapes in Thailand and neighboring countries.
Check out this video to hear more from the program participants.
For more info and to stay up-to-date, follow the Khao Yai Experience.