After playing hide-and-seek for a fortnight, the southwest monsoon finally arrived in Goa in June 2023. However, except on Sao Joao (St John the Baptist) feast day, the rains were still in ‘isolated places’ and so, intermittent at any given place.
They seemed like the ‘mushroom rains’ in August and so, it is not unreasonable to expect an early crop of termite mushrooms or Termitomyces. There are many species of them, ranging from the tiny Shringar Ollmi, T. microcarpus, which is the smallest mushroom to the T. titanicus, which is the biggest mushroom, up to one metre in diameter.
MUSHROOMING DURING THE MONSOONS
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, or anthill, that is also called the roinn.
Harvesting of wild mushrooms is prohibited by law in Goa, but Goans are god-fearing people, who sometimes bend and break legal barriers.
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 the termites is not a part of Konkan culture.
In return, the Konkan is blessed with the Termitomyces species of mushrooms during Shravan. They can be legally harvested outside the Wildlife Sanctuaries and morally outside the Dev Rai or god-protected forests.
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 and natural agriculture under the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PMKY), although ‘Farmers’ Day’ on the first of July passed by unnoticed in Goa.
The fishing ban during the months of June and July makes Goans yearn for another protein source. Fortunately, the month of Shravan will begin only after India’s Independence Day, this year, since Ganesh Chaturthi is on September 20, 2023.
Hopefully, there will be some termite mushrooms available by then.
We do have ‘button mushrooms’, or Agaricus bisporus, being commercially produced every day, round the year in Goa by a Goan entrepreneur. We sometimes share ideas (in the Goa-based GCCI Committee on Agriculture & Food Processing) on how to promote production of other mushrooms and to integrate it with organic farming.
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) for 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. What is needed is the creation of awareness in the local communities about sustainable practices for Termitomyces heimii or common ollmi.
Some self-styled ‘experts’ must also be restrained from vigilantism like gau rakshaks in the Hindi belt. The Forest Department is the appropriate law enforcing agency in the wildlife sanctuaries and it has manned check-posts and forest guards on ‘beat’ to enforce the law. The vigilantes can refer any violations to the law enforcers and not take the law into their own hands.
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