When Farmers Trend team arrived in Limuru, two youths Leonard Mukirai and Bob Kimaku were busy packaging and labelling button mushroom they had just harvested. The mushroom farm housed on an old house was the source of 50-100Kg of button mushroom daily, all supplied to local supermarkets everyday.
The duo, after years of tarmacking insearch of employment decided to venture into farming and their only hope was in mushroom production since it required less capital to start and has huge returns. Together, they raised a capital of 50,000/= that they used to purchase spawns, wheat straw, molasses, chicken manure and other substrates.
The most important thing in mushroom production is high quality spawn. A good spawn will make the venture profitable because for each kilo of mushrooms, a farmer earns between Sh600 and Sh800. Vegetarians, Indian restaurants, supermarkets and ordinary restaurants are potential markets.
Mukirai explains that “the process of growing mushrooms requires a lot of attention; they are grown under special conditions that call for the control of temperature, humidity and lighting. He notes that it is a tedious affair but is quick to add that nothing comes easy.” He further explains that there is high demand for mushrooms in Kenya.
The National Farmers Information Service data indicate that we are only producing 500 tonnes of mushrooms against an annual demand of 1,200 tonnes from homes and hotels.
Mushroom production is currently valued at Sh340 million and large scale producers account for over 95 per cent, most of which is button. Shitake, though not common in Kenya, is globally rated second after button.
“The returns are good and the demand for mushrooms is increasing. Kenya is leading in mushroom production in East Africa market. There is potential in mushrooms though it is very sensitive to the environment and one must observe proper hygiene to avoid infection,” says the mushroom farmers
To start off, you need the spawn, which is basically the mushroom ‘seed’. Domesticated mushrooms are not grown in soil but in a substrate, which is what you mix the spawn with. Substrate is made up of agricultural waste. Almost anything that is cultivated on land is a potential substrate for mushroom cultivation. You can use wheat straw, rice, banana and coconut waste, maize cobs, sawdust and even water hyacinth. Anything from the legume family, such as bean waste, is also great because of the nitrogen content. You need bags for placing the substrate and spawn in to sprout the mushrooms. Polythene bags with a 2kg capacity are ideal.
“Due to plastic bag ban by the Government, we have resulted on other innovative ways to make sure we are on market and follow the rule of law, we today use vertical shelves as alternative to plastic bags,” Mukirai explains
The first step involves compost making and it is a very delicate process, according to the duo. It involves substrate preparation which is first soaked in water and left for two days.
“It takes an intensive five weeks to prepare substrate before you can spoon (plant) mushrooms. You have to keep watering the substrate and on the fourth day, you add chicken manure. The manure provides the required nitrogen nutrients,” the button mushroom farmer explains.
After that it’s left for another two days but you keep adding water. Urea is then added at this stage to increase the nitrogen in the substrate. Sunflower and molasseses are then added to provide fungi and a crippling medium for the mushrooms.
“It is again left for two days as water is added. After that it is moved to a shaded area to shelter it from rain because by now you want to start losing water from the substrate so that it can start decomposing. You keep turning the substrate every day but now no water is added. A nitrogen fertiliser (MOP) and lime are added to balance the PH within the substrate.”
Gypsum, a product from the mining companies, is added to absorb excess water since you do not want the substrate to be too sticky or too dry. The substrate is then sterilised to kill any worms or pathogens that might be present.
“Mushrooms grow on sterile environment and in a disease-free zone. Any contaminations can cause damage and affect the mushroom thus reducing the market value. Mushrooms are sensitize to any odour, be it colognes or whatever, as it can cause discolouration of the mushrooms to brown or yellow and this is not good for the market — you want a white product.”
The substrate is then taken to a sterile room for seven days where steam is used to heat it up to a temperature of about 60-65 degrees Celsius where no contamination can survive.
After that the substrate is ready for broadcast and it is put in bags and taken to the growing room which must be clean with a temperature of between 23 and 28 degrees Celsius.