Youth eyes Russian market with oyster mushroom

The desire to quench the lucrative Russian market has forced an enterprising Ugandan youth into countrywide farmer campaign to adopt the white oyster mushroom farming.

The 24 year old resident of Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb was lured into mushroom farming by his father who has been in the industry for long. “I have been growing mushroom since my childhood thanks to my father who has done the practice for decades. His success ultimately inspired me into the trade and the guaranteed sweeter returns with less investment and sweat has kept my addiction to mushroom farming higher,” explained Augustine Babu.

For instance to set off, one needs a packet of black polythene bags (size 22). A packet costs Ush3000 and contains 50 pieces. During the stocking, cotton waste and 5kg of building lime are mixed with lime in water and shared out in two drums. A cotton waste sack weighs 70kg and can be bought at Ush15000. A bag can make 25 gardens. The Pawns (seeds) cost about Ush2000 per kg.

Babu has been sourcing markets for his fresh mushroom locally. “My steady supply has enabled me capture the local supermarkets and hotels.” Depending on the buyers and location of the market, he noted that a kilo of white oyster mushroom retails between Ush5000-Ush20000.

About a year ago while attending one of the farmers’ workshops and expo at Lugogo, Babu stumbled over vital contacts in his mushroom business. One of the experts in the event introduced him to a contact in Russia who would buy his produce at better price and also in bulk. He noted, “At first, I thought that I would manage to sustain the demand but when the first order was made, it was way beyond my capacity and therefore had to be honest and drop the deal albeit temporarily.” The Russian contact wanted a weekly supply of about 60,000kilograms of fresh mushroom, a quantity that Babu’s production capacity could not handle. Babu has about 1000 mushroom gardens (polythene bags) which on a good harvest produce about 3000kilograms.

The beauty about this lucrative export to Russia according to Babu was not only the guaranteed market but also the better price per kilogram of about Ush30000. Having failed to clinch this lucrative deal due to supply gaps, Babu vowed to amend his shortcomings and ensure that he can get the deal as he was assured of its availability provided he could meet the supply requirement.

As a result, he adopted the nationwide campaign to help farmers form a joint mushroom growers group. He recognizes the fact that the mushroom needs specialized knowledge and therefore for the success of his long term ambition he decided to offer free trainings to all willing farmers. However, in order to ensure that his efforts and time do not go down the drain, the ambitious youth demanded prospective farmers to buy pawns (seeds) worth at least Ush150000 as a way of committing themselves into adopting mushroom farming after the training. “By doing this, I carefully weeded out unserious farmers and made sure that only the serious and committed farmers will join my campaign,” he added. He multiplies the pawns at his backyard and has mastered the trade in that he boasts of being able to sustain any demand.

Having begun the initiative three months ago, Babu has trained over 200 farmers although his target is to train over 800 farmers. He explained, “A farmer buying the pawns worth Ush150000 can have about 150 gardens for mushrooms which can be harvested for over three months. That is why I am targeting over 800 farmers in order to clinch and comfortably sustain the supply to my Russian contact.”

For the farmers who are being trained in the initial stages of Babu’s plan, he also encourages them to market locally. “I don’t believe that market can be a problem to any farmer or anyone producing quality products. The long term plan is to export to Russia but currently, since I have not got the target number of farmers to help me supply the required quantity, my newly converted/graduated mushroom farmers selling in local markets and hotel,” explained Babu.

Babu is optimistic about his campaign and noted that both the small scale and large scale farmers are all coming on board. “Mushroom growing is lucrative and less time consuming. Many farmers that I have trained have always expressed to me their main worry being lack of market for the produce a myth I have demystified for them. In fact most of the farmers am training are adopting the large scale production in order to enjoy the economies of scale.” With his target of June 2015 fast approaching, Babu believes that this time round, he will happily sign the dotted lines of the lucrative Russian deal.

Mushrooms have a relatively high protein content and contain virtually no fat or cholesterol. They contain high amounts of vitamins and mineral salts. For example, mushrooms are a great source of niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and selenium nutrients often lacking in our highly processed food diets. They are low in calories and contain antioxidants to support a strong immune system. In addition, mushrooms are low in sodium and a good source of fibre and vitamins B1, B2 and D.