A group of Mushroom farmers in western Kenya have turned to associations to market their produce, and also develop affordable spores in the absence of a clear market chain. The Ministry of Agriculture introduced mushroom farming in Vihiga district back in 2002 and this attracted a number of farmers who realized they lacked proper channels of accessing the market.
Faced with the uphill task of finding the market, farmers came together and formed Vihiga Mushrooms back in 2002, and registered it in March, 2003 with initial members of less than 1000 members and today the organisation boast of more than 2600 active members. “As farmers we were all learners, commercial mushroom was a new idea to us, we don’t know what and where our market was and that is how the association was born,” Said Francis Silingi, the C.E.O Vihiga Mushrooms, “Mushroom market was like a mystery to be unravelled to us then”, he added.
With a vibrant Association in place, and assured of swift delivery of their produce to the market and access to high quality spores farmers focused their energy to farming.Since then they have increased their production from 2 tonnes a year in 2003 to over 15 tonnes by 2010. “The project came as a relief to the small scale farmers who didn’t have the avenues to market their produce due to the minimal amount of the mushrooms they are producing,” Said Mr. Francis Silingi.
The Vihiga mushroom project, which has now grown and changed to the co-operative society, helped them find the individual distributors who purchase their produce and retail them to individual consumers. According to Silingi, farmers bring their produce to their office and record the amount they have delivered; organisation delivers it to the market in different towns.
The organisation in addition manufactures a few finished products out of mushroom as well as sells fresh produce too.
“We use the mushrooms to make Unga, beverages, soya and mushroom powder from the mushrooms,” he said.
“Farmers don’t have to worry about the market for their produce, they just concentrate on production” The associations have identified distributors in Eldoret, Kisumu, Nakuru and Nairobi who buys their mushrooms as wholesale and retail to individual consumers.
Florence Minayo, is one of their distributors based in Nairobi. She has been distributing their mushrooms since 2007 when she heard their programme in the radio and contacted them. Minayo’s sells the mushrooms locally and she is based in Dandora phase three. Minayo says she receives a supply of 50kg dried mushroom supply from Vihiga mushroom every month at a price of Sh 1000 which she sells at about sh 2000.
She also receives supply of mushrrom powder and mushroom flour from Vihiga mushroom. According to her there is booming market for mushroom products. “what i get is not enough I receive about 50killos of mushroom flour every month which is not even enough,” she said.
A 25gram packet of mushroom powder is sold at about Sh 25 while a kilogram of mushroom flour goes for sh 150.
But, according to Mr.Silingi they lack enough support from the government which has made them to turn to a locally devised way of preservation and transportation of their produce. They have adopted and devised a local way of preserving the mushrooms in the absence of the developed way of refrigeration’s.
They wrap mushrooms in polythene bag and dress it with ice while in transit which preserves its freshness. “We usually send them at night because at night there is no much heat and it’s cold that favours our produce,” he said. When they first started mushroom cultivation, they were outsourcing spores at a cost of about 1500 per litre. They have now successfully cut down that cost as the association are producing spores which they sell to farmers at a cost of ksh.400 per litre.
According to Silingi, 1 litre of spores produces about 10 to 15 Killograms of mushrooms and it matures after 21 days over 2 months. The overall cost of producing a kilogram of mushroom is about Sh70 and the return is about Sh200.
The project has been so beneficial to small holder farmers in Vihiga district whose farm sizes are too small for any meaningful agricultural production.
Silingi says market of the mushroom is not the problem; the big challenge is production that does not even satisfy the local market. “It’s not that we were unable to identify the market or buyers, market is there but our produce is still so little to even satisfy the few we have identified”, said Silingi.
The Export promotion council have been on their neck asking them for the mushroom that can be exported but they have been unable even to meet the local market demand. According to Silingi, Export Promotion Council (EPC) has already made available market for them in Middle East countries and Japan and even regional market such as South Sudan but they have unable to meet even the local demand.
However, the farmers have to acquire some licence from various authorities before being allowed to export. According to information from Export promotion council, farmer must get permit from the Horticulture crops Development Authority (HCDA) and phytosanitary certificate from the Kenya Health Inspectorate services (KEPHIS).
KEPHIS does analysis on the sampling and does test on Pesticide level, diseases, and overall it’s fitness for consumption. A farmer takes the sample to any KEPHIS branches and the charges depend on the kind of analysis. A complete analysis of a sample cost’s about Sh21, 500.
However, for any farmer to engage in exportation business, farmers must belong to a registered company or register a company themselves. According to EPC, farmer can register as sole proprietorship, partnerships, or limited companies.
According to Horticulture officer at EPC, Mr. Charles, it’s always advisable for farmers to contact EPC or any other relevant authority for the standards and availability of the market before start farming, instead of farming and seeking for market.
“Market must drive the farming, not farming driving the market,” he said. Mr.Silingi says the market is there but the problem lies in low amount of produce. “Like Nakumatt Supermarket was asking us for monthly supply of 10 tones and yet we have the capacity of producing only 15 tones per year,” he adds. “We farm highly nutritious oyster variety of mushroom which is cheap to maintain but highly nutritious and this has been sources of protein rich food for local people,” Said silingi.
Another positive aspect of mushroom cultivation is its ability to degrade the abundant ligni- cellulose rich agricultural wastes. These include maize cobs, maize stover’s, sugarcane bagasse, cotton waste, coffee pulp and husks, oil palm wastes, water hyacinth, bean stalks, tree leaves and saw dust. This can be used singly or blended to create substrates for mushroom growing.
Kenya import mushrooms worth over Sh10 million every year from China which is the world largest mushroom producer.
China’s story is the story of the success and inspiration. They have managed to increase their mushroom production from 5.7% of the total world mushroom production in 1978 to a breathtaking figure of 70.6% of total world mushroom production in the 2002. In 1978 there production stood at 60,000 tonnes and in 2003 the production had surpassed 8.650 million tonnes.
The success of the Mushroom production in China is accredited to the Household Responsibility System (HRS), which started in 1978 and the government effort to empower the farmers. The HRS gave the individual farmer’s right to decide what to produce and soon the mushroom industry was booming. With the effect of HRS policy collective communes were dismantled and agricultural land was distributed to individual households.
The success is also accredited to the China’s huge cheap labour capacity and it’s estimated that 35 million people are engaged in the labour-intensive mushroom industry. The Mushroom production in China is largely dominated by the small-scale households that cultivate on an average of 1 hectare. However, there are also private companies working together with small scale households in outgrowing schemes and these companies assist in marketing the mushroom.
China itself is the biggest mushroom consumption market. More and more urban consumers are substituting meat products with mushrooms.
According to information on mushroombusiness.com the mushroom export accounts for less than 5% of Chinas total domestic production. China is an important player in both fresh and mushroom markets in the world. The major importer of Chinese mushroom is Asia, which accounts for almost half of the total Chinese export. Exports to Europe and US are dominated by Russia and Latin America.
One of the countries that import large amount of mushrooms in the world is Japan where the high value of Japanese vegetable consumption reflects a high consumption per person. Mushroom consumption of 3.4 kilogram per person is a significant statistic.
A document by FAO published in 2009 identifies that there are three main channels of small scale farmer to reach the market. The document called make money by growing mushrooms identifies three main channels mushroom growers can use to market their produce. The document state that mushroom grower can sell directly to the consumers either at the farm gate or at local markets which limits the farmer’s ability to reach distant markets.
The second channel is through an agent. The grower can sell to an agent who then sells the mushrooms either to local or distant markets, including exports and the third channel; a grower can belong to a cooperative or another farm organization, which offers easy market linkages to both local and marketing channels.
Mushrooms are highly perishable and the quality of the products must be guaranteed beyond doubt. To stimulate growth of mushroom industry requires concerted efforts to train farmers on production, provision of affordable credit to farmers and improving marketing system.
“We were crippled by unavailability of funds and the strict demand of collaterals by the bank before advancing us the loan,” said Silingi.
The ultimate success of the mushroom yield to cover the huge market deficit and probably exportation depends on the government will to make resources in form of credit and skills available to farmers.