Laos: Start of a New Project! We will Support Income Expansion of Persons with Disabilities through Mushroom Cultivation

Aiming to Improve the Living Environment of Persons with Disabilities  
AAR Japan started a new project in the capital city of Vientiane in March 2012. In this new project, we have been cooperating with Lao Disabled People’s Association (LDPA) with the mission of improving the living environment of persons with disabilities (PWDs) by increasing their accessibility, and supporting their small-scale businesses for income expansion.

June 28th, 2012 – Staff members of the AAR Japan Vientiane office that spearheads the new project in Laos (On the left is Noriyasu OKAYAMA and third from the left is Yumeka OTA)

Spreading the Idea of “barrier-free” from a Multifunctional Center

In Vientiane, slopes and bathrooms with universal design are installed in major hospitals, some luxury hotels, and international meeting halls; however, consideration towards PWDs in regards accessibility of local sidewalks, markets, houses, and widths of roads is practically nonexistent. In rural areas, there are steps everywhere such as buildings and roads. To make matters worse, the roads that are made of red clay become heavily muddy during the rainy season, and it gets difficult to travel for the local residents, even for those who do not have disabilities. Among the general citizens, the idea of “barrier-free” is hardly popularized.
In response, AAR Japan has been moving forward with the construction of a multifunctional center for persons with disabilities since April 2012, as a base to spread the idea of “barrier-free” in Laos. In the center, an exhibition room of a barrier-free living environment will be set up and samples of slopes, bathrooms, and sliding doors are going to be displayed. Moreover, by having workshops that target PWDs and their families, administrators, and general citizens, we are planning to raise awareness of the project. The multifunctional center is planned to be completed this fall.

June 27th, 2012 – Pictured about is the multifunctional center that is under construction in the capital city of Vientiane. The construction began at the end of April, and the framework has been completed as of now.

Teaching PWDs the Know-how of Mushroom Cultivation

The other pillar of the project is supporting small-scale businesses among PWDs. After providing training on mushroom cultivation and restaurant management, we will support the trainees set up their own businesses. We plan to set up a restaurant next to the multifunctional center and provide a space where PWDs can acquire restaurant management skills through hands-on training. For those who wish to open a new business upon completion of the training, we will also provide them with cooking utensils.

In May, we had our first mushroom cultivation training over the course of 4 days, where 7 PWDs participated. For PWDs who have difficulties obtaining steady jobs and earning an income, mushroom cultivation is an ideal job, which uses a relatively small space, can be started with a small investment, and does not require heavy labor.
After going through the specialist’s training on mushroom cultivation, the trainees started the actual work right away. Fertilizers such as rice bran, sugar, and magnesium sulfate are added to sawdust that acts as the culture medium and then evenly mixed. Then, the mixture is stuffed in bags and sealed. These bags are placed inside barrels that are tightly sealed and sterilized by heating for 6 hours, when the mushroom spores can be placed for growth (inoculation). This time, we planted oyster mushrooms, but in the future, we will grow different kinds of mushrooms depending on the cultivation season. After about a month upon inoculation, the mushrooms will start to sprout, and 3 months following that, they are ready to be harvested. The amount of mushrooms we can harvest from one bag at a time is 100~150g. We can harvest 3 or 4 times from the same bag during these 3 months.

May 29th, 2012 – As part of the training, the trainees place the bags stuffed with mushroom culture inside a barrel and heat it for sterilization.

The Harvested Mushrooms are Popular among the Local People as Being “Inexpensive and Fresh”, Selling Out Immediately
We have produced 260 bags worth of mushrooms during the training. When we began their sales on July 4th, the local people came to buy them right away. The sales of the mushrooms started off really well at the price of 20,000 LAK (approximately 200 JPY) per kilogram. According to a customer, these mushrooms were were much fresher and cheaper than those sold at the market (cost is about 24,000 LAK per kilogram at the market, since the sellers must pay for space rental fee). Over the course of half a month since July 4th, there has been a harvest of 14 kg, equaling sales of 280,000 LAK (approximately 3,000 JPY). This particular group of trainees officially began cultivation and is now preparing another 2,500 bags of mushrooms.

June 29th, 2012 – “It is encouraging to set up a business with fellow trainees,” says Khantaly, who participates in the mushroom cultivation training despite being unable to use the left half of her body.

Khantaly (42-year-old female), a participant of the mushroom cultivation training, was involved in an accident that left her paralyzed in the left half of her body. She currently lives with her mother, son, her young brother, and sister-in-law. Although she has a simple job of peeling onions and garlic that she can do at home, it is difficult for her to carry out the task using only her right hand, and she can earn a mere 50 JPY per day. However, if the mushroom cultivation works out well, she can expect to make at least 3,000 JPY monthly. “It was interesting to learn about a new skill of cultivating mushrooms. The work doesn’t require using both hands, and even if it becomes hard to set up a business on my own, I’m sure I can make it with the help of my fellow trainees.” said Khantaly.
AAR Japan will continue to support PWDs in Laos by improving their living environment helping them boosting their income.

May 28th, 2012 – In the mushroom cultivation training, the trainees first learn about the cultivation process before hands-on work.
May 29th, 2012 – The trainees evenly mix various ingredients and chemicals with the sawdust, which acts as the culture medium.
May 29th, 2012 – Khantaly fills a bag with the medium and seals it.(center left)
May 30th, 2012 – The bags are placed inside a barrel and sealed, which is then sterilized for 6 hours.
May 31st, 2012 – The mushroom spores are planted in the sterile cultural medium (inoculation)
July 5th, 2012 – After the spores are planted, the mushrooms start to grow in the stacked bags in about a month.
July 5th, 2012 – The mushrooms that were inoculated on May 5th 2012 were harvested for the first time on July 4th. Since then, they have been growing very well. On the right is Yumeka OTA of AAR Japan Vientiane office.
July 5th, 2012 – Local residents immediately came by to purchase the mushrooms. Noriyasu OKAYAMA of AAR Japan Vientiane office hands a bag of mushrooms to a customer. (far right)
                                                                    AAR Japan Vientiane Office: Noriyasu OKAYAMA
Has been working in AAR JAPAN Vientiane Office since June, 2004. After graduating university, spent 2 years as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer in Bangladesh. Before joining AAR JAPAN, implemented ODA projects in Fisheries Agency, and then worked on rural development in Nepal for 5 years. (Born in Aichi Prefecture)