Goa is a part of the Konkan, where the termitorium, or anthill, is worshipped as the representation of the formless (Nir-akar) goddess Sateri, variously known as Kelbai, Mahamai, Tulzai, Mirabai. The name of the goddess is itself derived from the word sater that is also called the roinn. The male termite, Odentermus obesus, or rawlu is worshipped as Rawalnath and is given a free run of the land in the Dev Rai or sacred groves.
Obviously, the use of insecticides to kill termites is not a part of Konkan culture. In return, the Konkan is blessed with the Termitomyces species of mushrooms during the Hindu holy month of Shravan.
The Shringar Ollmi, T. microcarpus is the smallest, while the T. titanicus is the biggest mushroom, up to one metre in diameter. Contrary to the statements of some ‘experts’, this population of local mushrooms may increase with the practice of organic farming. The Government of Goa is currently promoting the adoption of organic agriculture.
The fishing ban is over, but the month of Shravan has begun, and so there are many persons who depend on non-meat protein till Ganesh Chaturthi that is still three weeks away. With the collection of mushrooms being prohibited/restricted by the Forest Department in the ‘Wildlife Parks/Sanctuaries’ and ‘Reserved Forests’, the arrivals of wild mushrooms have decreased in Goa.
With demand being inelastic and the supply decreasing drastically, the price was bound to increase. Yet, no one expected to pay Rs 2,500 for fifty mushrooms, which works out to Rs 50 per mushroom, up from Rs 20 each that was quoted in Panjim three years ago.
Earlier, in the 1980s, we found Rs 50 per hundred mushrooms to be exorbitant, but that was also the era in which “four figure salary” was advertised in the matrimonial columns!
Ironically, the Termitomyces mushroom habitat will be devastated if the railway and electricity projects approved for Goa by the NBWL and MoEF&CC see the light of day.
The ‘experts’ who are in the Wildlife Boards and other environmental bodies at the national and state level are surprisingly silent on this aspect.
Scientists have worked for more than four decades to mimic the growing conditions and obtain the Termitomyces mushrooms under laboratory conditions. The temperature and light conditions during the period of intermittent showers, normally in the end of July, are known as the ollmeacho paus or mushroom rains, as the mushrooms appear soon thereafter.
However, replication of success in getting mushrooms under laboratory conditions has eluded mycologists and the proposed ‘domestication’ of Termitomyces mushrooms by humans has remained a tantalizing mirage.
Dr Sangam Kurade is an expert in European, or Button mushrooms, Agaricus bisporus, in Goa and has earned millions of rupees from them since 1995. Cdr Ananthanarayanan TR knows the Milky White mushrooms, Calocybe indica. Maxswinne Rebello e Pacheco and others have earned from Oyster Mushrooms, Pleurotus sajor caju, with which Nelson Figueiredo and I started mushroom promotion in Goa in 1986.
The local communities dwelling in the forest and in the foothills of the Sahayadris have been sustainably harvesting the Termitomyces species (Ollmi, Tel Ollmi, Xitol ollmi, etc) centuries before the legal restrictions in National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserved Forests. With the law and enforcement in place and with the forest-dwellers dependent on the mushroom production being sustainable, there is little to fear about their extinction in Goa or elsewhere in the world.
The author is the former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan