Monsoon mushrooms help Tharis fight poverty

HYDERABAD: For the local people in Thar desert, monsoon rains always bring some unusual fruit species and wild vegetables, including mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Some people have their own indigenous practices to preserve many wild edible products growing in the rainy season for future use.

During the recent rains in scattered areas, the fertile desert has become productive, attracting people to collect mushrooms, which are available at all local town markets in Tharparkar district at Rs300/kg to Rs400/kg, depending on its size and freshness.

Some children collect these products to sell at highways connecting the desert towns to support their families.

Carrying little packs in small plastic shopping bags these hardworking children can be seen standing at highways to sell mushrooms at Rs150-300/pack, as per its weight.

Usually, mushrooms begin to emerge within one to three days following a significant rainfall in the desert and traditional collectors move outside in fertile sand dunes to collect little for their own consumption, as well as for the local markets to earn some money.

The other nutritious wild vegetables, including tinda (apple gourd), melon and watermelon are expected to come to market after 15 to 20 days, community activists said.

The smallest size melon family products take a few days to ripe, and people used to eat them, as it tastes delicious.

These vegetables grow on moisture soil, which local people love to consume and collect for local markets.

Reports gathered from the community activists reveal mostly youth, residing near desert towns, including Mithi, Nagarparkar, Chachhro and other large settlements collect these seasonal products for sale in the market to earn money.

Muhammad Siddiq, leading a Rural Development Association (RDA) and working with the local communities on agriculture and water management in Mithi, believes that farmers have their own calendar for crops cultivation, which cannot match the chart designed by the Sindh government for crops.

For example, the desert farmers usually start cultivating pearl millet from June 15 to July 15, depending on satisfactory rains, as it is required for crop germination. This period for the specific crop is considered prosperous to have more yield.

Likewise, after July 15 to August 15, they prefer to cultivate guar, the other cash and food crop in the area. But this time, some parts of the desert could not receive more rains, which could have benefited the farmers to cultivate food crops, such as pearl millet, he added.

Some veteran farmers said they have lost the season for cultivating precious pearl millet, whose time started from June 15 to July 15. Only a few lucky farmers have got a chance to cultivate this crop in their fields, which received rain showers in June and early July.

Pearl millet crop takes 60 days to ripe. This food crop is ideal for the desert farmers.

They collect food for the whole year for their own consumption and might sell extra in the market to feed their families.

Similarly, they collect fodder through this food crop for their animals.

Engineer Parvez Anand said that only Nagarparkar area has received heavy rain showers, which have benefited natural streams to flow and fill ponds.

Herders are returning after rains, but they have to wait for sometime to see grass growing for grazing their animals.

It will take at least two to three weeks to see green fields.

For tourists, the community activists said that it depends on the situation because after the emerging global coronavirus pandemic, a large number of tourists may not come to see the green desert this time due to safety concerns.

But a small number of people are moving to different areas to

witness streaming of natural rivers, filled natural ponds and emerging greenery.

In mountainous areas of Nagarparkar, mostly Karoonjhar hills have more medicinal plants, which the local people collect during the monsoon rains.

Some herbal traders usually visit the areas for buying valuable items for the major market of Karachi. But, it may take some days to find these valuable herbal products in the hilly parts.

The fear of recent pandemic may also affect the business activities, which otherwise provide a source of income to area youth, who collect valuable herbal plants, leaves, seeds and flowers.

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