Water hyacinth. It is a free floating perennial herb of fresh water ecosystems. Dry hyacinth can support mushroom farming. Photo: Feeedipedia
While the Lake Victoria hyacinth is driving fishermen out of business, Siaya County farmer, Naftali Oseka has converted the stubborn weed into the a substrate for mushroom production.
The farmer, who lives along the shore of this biggest fresh water lake in Africa, learnt that dry hyacinth can support mushroom farming, replacing the need for expensive bagasse and sometimes seldom sawdust and sugarcane leaves.
“I started mushroom farming two years ago when I got tired of fishing. With the ever growing weed on the lake, fish harvest has been diminishing. Government efforts to remove the weed have been futile. Other fishermen are using chemicals in fishing, which has caused deaths and eventual drop in population,” said Oseka. “Water hyacinth was another reason why I left my previous job,” he added.
Instead of struggling to make ends meet with the fishing, he resorted to “befriend the enemy weed” as an alternative source of income.
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Mushrooms do not grow directly on the soil. They require a medium, substrate, which seats between them and the soil. Most farmers use saw dusts, bagasse, rice, wheat, millet and bean straws as substrates.
However, dry hyacinth is a good mushroom substrate when mixed with other trash from organic farm waste.
Oseka says: “I learnt the mushroom venture from a friend in a group of mushroom farmers in Vihiga, our neighbouring county. It was simple, I only needed Sh1500 to buy grass and some polls to construct a mud house of seven by nine feet,” he added.
Mushrooms thrive well in an environment of 15-30 degrees Celsius, meaning in case of dry weather there should be continuous sprinkling of water to keep the soil moist.
Oseka grows spawn variety of mushroom which he bought at Sh600 per kilogram from the friend. This variety can fetch up to 40 bags with each bag weighing between two and three kilos during good weather.
Mushroom farming is a viable business as the edible fungi mature within two months from harvesting. The demand against consumption in Kenya is 5:12, meaning there the market is more than twice the production.
Button mushrooms even take less than a month to mature. A quarter of an acre can hold 500 bags of button mushrooms, which produce about one ton. One kilogram sells at Sh300.
The small-scale farmer’s main targets are restaurants in Kokach Beach, Kamuga and Lwak. Individuals also buy the produce directly from the farm.