Joint FAO-Govt project trains disabled in mushroom farming

business June 16, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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"We the trainees now have hope and see light for a better future, and with the helping hand of FAO through the joint project with the Department of Public Welfare, we will be carried over the difficulties and obstacles placed by a non-understanding societ

Oradee was one of the people who joined the Mushroom Production Training for Disabled People, initiated 12 years ago in Ubon Ratchathani by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
While in Bangkok in February to attend the Regional Workshop on Disability-Inclusive Agribusiness Development, Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said: “Disability-inclusive agribusiness has three fundamental dimensions: the farmers themselves, consumers and marketing, and labour. 
“The important issue is to find out how people with disabilities can actively contribute to these three dimensions and how we can create an enabling environment for them to expand their skills, markets and job opportunities so they can participate in income generating activities in agribusiness and become self-reliant.” 
Mushrooms were favoured because they offer good market opportunities, as they are part of the daily Thai diet. Furthermore, they can be cultivated by physically and mentally disabled people and can be started at a very low cost while generating income within a short term.
The project was initiated on recognition that Thailand offers enabling policies for people with disabilities, and the Royal Family has always actively supported government projects involving disadvantaged people. The FAO decided to join the Thai government in a commitment to improve the livelihoods of rural disabled in a step towards poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
One of the main objectives of the project was to establish economic self-reliance for rural disabled as entrepreneurs. The FAO assisted in strengthening the capacity of local institutions for training. The purpose of the training was to prepare people with disabilities for equal participation in social and economic development at the family and community levels. Training further offered opportunities for disabled people to prove their ability. It is easy to see someone’s disability but much more difficult to see their capability.
Selection and training methodology were developed to answer specific needs and to ensure replication and sustainability after training. Alternative ways of accomplishing certain tasks needed to be developed to cater to specific disabilities. Motivational sessions as part of the training contributed greatly to personal development.
Every step involved in mushroom cultivation was reviewed during training, including entrepreneurship and environmental protection. Forty-seven trainees successfully completed the 60 days of training. They then went home and transferred their newly acquired know-how to their family and community. 
All trainees have already set up mushroom houses, and are now ensured of daily food and income. They have gained self-reliance and self-sufficiency to become active participants in their community. Five returned to the centre to become assistants to the five trainers who work under the Department of Public Welfare. 
The trainees acquired new skills for enhancing the capacities of rural disabled as entrepreneurs. Appropriate construction designs were introduced for trainees to set up their mushroom enterprise, using readily available materials, thus lowering costs substantially. 
As a demonstration of self-confidence, six disabled trainees married and established joint enterprises.
According to the FAO, the Department of Public Welfare has indicated its intent to replicate this training programme at its centre in Nong Khai. The FAO is preparing monitoring and evaluation tools along with training manuals to ensure feasibility, sustainability, and successful replication in future local and regional projects. 
“I learned a lot from this project,” Konuma said. “One farmer said that because of her skill at growing mushrooms she could be financially self-reliant. People in the village came to learn mushroom-farming skills from this farmer and so she became a trainer. She said she was happy to earn the respect of the community because of her skills.”