Mushroom farming is now a blessing in disguise for women in Taita Taveta thanks to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) that has injected shillings 100 million to assist those interested in growing this delicacy.
Such one beneficiary is the Vogha women group of Maktau in Mwatate sub county.
“I attended a one week training organized by FAO in their offices in Wundanyi where I was taught the A – Z of growing mushrooms. Back in Maktau I gathered all the 47 members of my group to whom I extolled all the goodness of this type of farming.” Explained Ms Mariann Ngure.
Ngure noted that the women became very interested and they all agreed to try their hands in this kind of farming.
She observed that the beauty of engaging in “vogha farming” which means mushroom in the local dialect was that they did not need any soil and lots of water unlike maize, millet and sorgum.
“All that is need is the already available agricultural waste such as maize and beans stalks, straw and maize corn cobs which we get after harvesting the same, but in our case the crop failed due to the shortfall of rains in our area.”
“We can also use maize chaff – that we collect from the posh mills, waste from sugar, banana, sawdust, chicken mature and cotton seed hulls and coffee residues where such is found. This is called substrate after a mixture of several of the ingredients.” Said a knowledgeable Ngure.
Mr. Paul Kisiangani who is the Taita Taveta county program officer chipped in saying that after realizing that the county is semi-arid, FAO under USAID saw the need to introduce mushroom cultivation that can be done using readily available and inexpensive substrates as mentioned above.
Kisiangani noted that there were two types of mushrooms – oyster and button and the former is the one that had been introduced in the county.
Oyster mushrooms cultivation requirements are only Spawns which refer to seeds, Substrate, a room, Poly bags, string and Water.
Mushrooms produce a very high return per square foot. Oyster mushrooms are especially productive, and can produce up to 25 pounds per square foot of growing area every year.
Oyster mushrooms take about 4 weeks from incubation to harvest. It is important to get mushrooms to market as soon as possible since oyster mushrooms are highly perishable.
“Mushrooms are an excellent food and delicacy in many cultures across the world. They are a good source of protein, vegetable protein, chitin, iron, zinc, fibre, essential amino acids vitamins and minerals. “
“The product is also low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and contain several important nutrients.” Said he.
Fresh mushrooms make delicious stews which are taken with staple foods as an alternative to meat.
“Oyster and button varieties are rich in nutrients while Shitake and Reishi which is another type of mushroom have medicinal properties.
Mushrooms can also be made into beverages like reishi coffee and tea. These are beverages based on the reishi mushroom which is known to be medicinal.
The agricultural officer said Oyster and shiitake mushroom varieties are recommended for beginners in mushroom growing due to the availability of market.
“As such my office saw it fit to train these women and other groups to start this kind of farming as an income generating activity which would ensure that the members had money to cater for the daily needs in form of shelter, clothing, paying school fees for their children not to mention their feeding on healthy food.” Continued the program officer.
Kisiangani explained that the zeal shown by these women would make these rich in the shortest time possible.
“These women are expected to produce 940 kilos per week. A kilo of the mushroom sells at between shillings 400 and 600. Supposing they sold a kilo at 400 shillings that means that they would be making a cool shillings 376,000 per week thus smiling all the way to the bank.” Said this officer.
The incubation period for mushroom is one month and the harvesting period is three months. A room with 3 x 3 meter dimensions can hold 1000 mushroom sets on small polythene bags. Each bag can produces at least 400 grams of mushrooms.
He said that his office which provided the spawn to the group had already looked for a ready market for their produce in Nairobi and therefore the work of the women was to produce, produce and produce mushroom so as to uplift their living standards and that of the relatives.
This officer noted that Mushrooms are an ideal specialty crop for small-scale farmers, because they can be grown indoors and do not require arable land to grow.
“This means that farmers with limited land can grow them (even in urban areas), and farmers with land can grow them in addition to other crops that done require lots of rains as the waste would later be turned into substrates for growing the mushrooms.” Said he.
However, good quality training is a must although mushrooms are relatively easy to grow, they also require technical know-how so as to avoid o limited production challenges such as low production and contamination.
Another added advantage of growing mushrooms, Kisiangani said that the farmers would use the waste after harvesting as compost for growing other crops such as sweet potatoes and also be used as livestock feed apart from having a ready market.
Mushrooms can be value added by making mushroom-based porridge flour that is gradually gaining acceptance in the market. Mushroom farming which can be started with as little capital as shillings 30,000 is a cheap source of income that generates returns in a very short period.
Back to the trained Ngure gave the following as the ingredient ratios for oyster mushrooms cultivation; 1kg supplement: 4kilograms substrate: 8litres water per poly bag adding that 75% moisture is recommended to avoid water logging.
She demonstrated how the women prepare their substrate which composed of maize and beans stalks which is chopped into small pieces which included even maize cobs.
This mixture is then put into a drum which has forty litres of water, one cup of molasses is added, soda ash plus jik one cup which is then boiled for one hour so as to get rid of germs.
“We let the substrate to cool off for 24 hours before we pack into polythene bags after adding sawdust and maize chaff into the same. “ said Ngure who is the only one trained by FAO.
She noted that the next step was spawning or sowing the seeds which is carried out in a dark room, followed by tying the poly bag at the top which would be opened after 28 days when the white colonies would have started appearing.
Three days later watering is done to facilitate pinheads opening which means that the mushroom is ready to be harvested.
Ngure insisted that the darkroom should be damp at all times as the condition is critically required at this point of oyster mushrooms cultivation and hence earth floors should be sprinkled with water.
In case of cemented floors hessian or gunny bags should be are covered with a damp Hessian Cloth whereby harvesting starts one week later and which is done every three days for the next six months.
Kisiangi noted that the best place to done cultivation of mushrooms should be mud houses whose ventilation space between the wall and the roof should be minimized during construction to avoid excess moisture loss.
In the said structure, shelves are built where the bags that contain the substrate and spawn shall be place.
“The shelves which hold the poly bags should be made on double rows in order to allow space for watering and harvesting. The shelves should be 1 metre wide while the lowest shelf should be 15 cm from above ground.” Directed the agricultural officer.
“We take this opportunity to thank FAO for thinking of how to alleviate poverty among us women by bringing this project. We are now sure that we shall pay school fees for our children, feed on nutritious food and also save for a rainy day and hence improve on our living style which had been hampered by helplessness.” Concluded Ngure
Mushroom farming will provide an option to diversify and earn additional income to farmers in this county which has a breath taking landscape whose tourism potential is yet to be tapped.