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Biz blitz forgets home star

Patna, Oct. 8: The Bihar government has been promoting farmers and businesspersons but has forgotten a woman from the state who is among the best “inspirational” entrepreneurs in Asia.

In spite of the various awards to farmers and entrepreneurs, Patna’s “mushroom woman” Lalmuni Devi stands forgotten.

Last year, a private research agency in Mexico declared Lalmuni Devi “an inspirational character” among 25 entrepreneurs from seven Asian countries.

The claim to fame of the landless farmer in her mid-40s, who stays in Azad Nagar village in Naubatpur, is that she has been growing mushrooms all through the year.

Lalmuni Devi stands forgotten as deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi had recently graced an occasion hosted by World Bank to award 25 entrepreneurs heralding socio-economic changes. The Bihar government has also distributed credit cards and awards to farmers.

The mushroom farmer’s name was missed because of “procedural lapse”, said officials of the state’s agricultural department.

She had learnt about awards to farmers through the newspapers. Upset at being forgotten, she recently came to Patna to air her grievances before government officials.

Lalmuni Devi said she started farming with help from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Though the council gave her free mushroom seeds for two years, she said she could do with financial help and recognition from the state government. These would take mushroom farming to a bigger level.

Lalmuni Devi, who stays in a thatched house, said she started mushroom cultivation four years ago. With help from ICAR, she has been cultivating it under the shade of her house using wheat and rice straws.

Mushroom seeds are sold at Rs 60 per kg and a kilo of mushroom seeds produces 10 to 14kg of mushrooms. The winter variety of mushrooms sells at Rs 60-80 per kg while the rarer summer ones are sold at Rs 80-120 per kg. A mushroom crop cycle takes three months and agricultural scientists said it could be grown throughout the year with some expert guidance. Though Lalmuni Devi is far from becoming a rags-to-riches story, she said she earns enough to provide for her family.

A Bihar industries association member criticised the government for forgetting Devi.

When the World Bank and the state government can spot the maker of the samman rickshaw and another voluntary groups for facilitating licenses and loans to street vendors, a woman of exception resourcefulness such as Lalmuni Devi should have been awarded, he added.

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