Mushrooms are the spore-bearing fruiting body of Fungus. They are highly nutritious playing the ‘meat’ in the vegetable world. They have of late captured the attention of the Kenya’s farming community with most mushroom farmers boasting of amazing profits. They are land and rainfall independent hence making them the better option for the land-unblessed or those looking to maximize revenue from their land usage.
They only require a house and your attention to make you the happy farmer in the end. The demand in Kenya is unsatisfied with NAFIS data indicating that we are only producing 500 tons of these mushrooms against an annual demand of 1200 tons from homes and hotels.
Mushroom farming has been a very complicated venture requiring lots of chemistry, biology and attention. This has made it a no-go-zone for the small-scale farmers. However, with continuous seminars and studies, some farmers have learned how to improvise and they have successfully mastered how to make the very complicated procedures of the large scalers to one simple- carefully-executed-piece of cake procedure.
Peter Kibe, a mason from Molo, is one of those farmers. He is growing mushroom as a business with his focus being the oyster variety( the most common among small-scale farmers. Others include shiitake and button)and he is enjoying the benefits of this venture. He has been in mushroom farming since 2006. He started with only 2 kg of spawn (the planting material) per mushroom cycle but got disrupted by the post election violence a bit in 2007 to 2008. However, he resumed his agribusiness venture with his recent plans being to inoculate 4 kg of spawn every month. This is how he pulls it off.
Mushrooms do not require huge tracts of land to grow. All you need is a house to keep them warm and humid and very happy. Using free material from his garden such as mud and wood, peter constructed a structure of 10 by 17 ft to house his new money-bleeding venture. He then bought a cover paper worth Ksh 5,000 to act as a roof for the structure.
Substrate( the growing medium)
Mushroom would require a special kind of medium to grow and Kibe was smart enough to improvise. Using maize and beans trash from his garden, crashed and packed in the 50 kg gunny bags (like those for packing sugar or rice) he was able to create the substrate required for growth. Here, soil is not necessary.
This venture is very sensitive to cleanliness. They require germ-free environment. This is why attention is very important when it comes to mushroom farming. Sterilization is usually done through steaming in large scale but for small-scale farmers like Kibe, one can improvise. He uses a drum to boil water. With the water boiling, he immerses the gunny bags with the substrate in it for about 1 hour so as to get rid of any germs. He then suspends the gunny bags in the structure overnight for them to cool off. With this procedure, his sterilization problems are solved.
This is the most serious part. It’s the part that scares away newbies in mushroom growing. This stage is all about getting the ‘seeds’ (spawns) from the experts and planting them (inoculation). In this stage, you become the chemical engineer with lots of mixing stuff. But, don’t you worry, it’s not rocket science. With Kibe, he only purchased the spawns (2 kg) from JKUAT at a cost of Ksh 600 per kg. He then purchased the normal 9 by 15 nylon bags used for packing 2 kg sugar or rice among others. A bunch of them goes for around Ksh 80 and contains 200 pieces. These were to serve as his garden bags. He then outsourced for cotton wool and methylated spirit (you know the deal for these things, right? It’s all about keeping your working tools very clean. Like you are operating on someone)
Using the spirit to sterilize his hand gloves, he then mixes the spawn with the sterilized substrate and packs the mixture in the small gunny papers. The 2 kg of spawn mixed with the substrate gives him about 50 small gunny bags (I kg of spawn translates to about 25 small gunny bags). He then covers them with the top wrapped around small pipes (sterilized). Just like drinking water from those nylon papers using a straw. Their external opening (of the pipes) is covered with cotton wool sterilized with the methylated spirit. Wow! Complicated stuff. But believe it or not, this is one is easier done than said.
This is the part where Kibe takes the 70 gunny bags to the darkest corner of his structure, away from sunshine for about 21 days. After those 21 days, the gunny bags are now covered with whitish substance, mycelium. He transfers the gunny bags from darkness to lighter places of the structure to enable mushroom formation. It takes only 4 to 5 days before he notices the white heads beginning to appear on the sides of the gunny bags. Using a sterilized scalpel (sharp razor blade), he pricks the gunny papers at the area directly adjacent to the new mushroom about to pop out so as to allow easy germination. This time, a lot of humidity is highly required. You can use the knapsack to spray clean water in the structure. Just ensure that the jet is in mist form.
This is the happy moment for Kibe. This usually happens after 1 to almost 2 months of serious nurturing of these fungi. The 2 kg he inoculated less than 2 months ago have multiplied to 50 kg of fresh mushroom for sale. He sells a kilo of mushroom to his clients at a price of Ksh 320 meaning he just made Ksh 16,000 in less than 2 months using only Ksh 1600 of spawn. If he expands to growing 4 kg of spawn every month (half the full capacity for his 10 by 17 ft structure) then he will be getting a gross income of Ksh 64,000 every month.
Bottom line! This sounds too complicated. However, with practising high levels of hygiene and attending seminars organized by government and universities as suggested by Kibe, it becomes as easy as turning Ksh 2,000 of investments into Ksh 16,000 in less than 2 months.
The question to ask yourself will be, how many of those Ksh 2,000 do I need to multiply in those 2 months?