Dar es Salaam. A few decades back, very few people, if any, knew the benefits of eating mushrooms. At the time, the delicacy used to grow on its own in the wild, on farms and even in people’s yards.
Today mushroom is grown for commercial purposes now that many know its health benefits. Mushroom farming, which is also referred to as fungiculture has acquired popularity as apart from generating income, many citizens are employed in the sector.
Shaban Kabanga, a mushroom farmer in Dar es Salaam says not only does the crop earn growers income but it also serves as a nutritious food that also plays a significant medicinal role by reducing high blood pressure risk, heart disease and related health complications.
He says through mushroom farming, many have said goodbye to poverty and are now living a better life. He says a kilo sells at between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000. “You can harvest an average of 15 to 20 kilogrammes of mushrooms per day on a 10 by 10 square metres farm. This means one can make between Sh3.6 million and Sh4.5 million and Sh4.8 million to Sh6.0 million per month respectively,” Shaban says.
He goes on to say that since a single mushroom harvest would take three to six months, farmers can generate the aforementioned income in three to six consecutive months. “The crop can therefore be grown twice or thrice a year, therefore increasing the income of individual farmers and playing an important role in poverty alleviation.”
Shaban who started growing mushrooms on a small scale in 2013, acquired the knowledge and skills on mushroom farming in his quest to becoming a crop’s cultivation trainer.
“This was after discovering the huge potential in the crop and the inadequate knowledge and skills among farmers. But, later on, in 2016, I decided to engage in mushroom farming so that I could personally benefit from the opportunity the crop presented,” he tells Seeds of Gold of The Citizen.
That time, he says most mushroom growers engaged in mushroom farming with little knowledge and skills, noting that most of them did it locally.
“I was interested in engaging in modern mushroom farming. Generally, anyone interested can do so. All you need is only as a small size of land. You can even grow mushrooms in your yard,” he says.
Engaging in the crop has enabled Shaban to work with different organisations, both domestic and foreign in capacity building trainings to various communities across the country and cultivating the crop which is a friend of the environment.
According to him, individual households, supermarkets and hotels are the major customers of mushrooms.
Farmers intending to engage in mushroom farming should choose a well-ventilated room where sacks filled with sand, wood shell and dusts, maize and rice bran are filled.
The sacks that would be systematically arranged in the room will serve as farm beds for trans-plantation of mushroom seedlings, according to Shaban.
“Once the farm is ready, a farmer will be required to select better millet grains, clean and soak in water at least for 24 hours. The seeds will ultimately germinate when transferred to a bottle where they develop to mushrooms,” he says.
The mushrooms would then be transferred to the sacks and systematically arranged in a room for transplantation.
“Farmers will be required to water transplanted mushrooms for at least three times a day for the crop to thrive and give better results,” Shaban advises.
The whole process takes up to three months when the crop is ready for harvesting.
Why mushrooms matter
Shaban says mushrooms are nutritious and play an important role in minimising the risk of serious health complications such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
“Mushrooms are also a good source of vitamin B, C, and D as well as important minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. The crop also provides carbohydrates, although it is low in fat and completely lacks starch content,” Shaban says.
Mushrooms are essential in the planet’s ecosystem as they play an important role in recycling nutrients and maintaining the health of the environment.
“They take nutrients from plants like trees, but also provide water and nutrients to the roots. Also, wastes from other crops such as maize and rice brans as well as wood wastes are used as farm beds, a move that is important in conserving the environment.” The mushroom grower allays safety fears, noting that poisonous mushrooms originate from the bush where the product germinates naturally.
Pests and diseases
According to him, bacteria and viruses are the major diseases affecting mushrooms, although there are reliable preventive and control measures.
“Usually, they affect mushroom farms whose owners don’t adhere to hygiene procedures, hence allowing bacteria to enter the farm and destroy the crop,” he says.
He outlines major challenges facing mushroom farming in the country as hot temperature in some parts such as Dar es Salaam as well as the persistent notion and belief that the crop is poisonous and therefore unfit for human consumption.
“Lack of trust between farmers and customers is another challenge. This has hampered business relationships between the two leading to slow business...,” he says.
Herman Shayo, another mushroom farmer in Kiluvya in the city outskirts started his venture with a Sh2 million capital. There are some who started with as low as Sh10,000 and Sh50, 000 capital depending on the size of the farm.
“Some started with Sh700,000 to Sh1 million capital. Those who started mushroom farms in their houses needed not worry about capital,” he says.
Small Industries Development Organisation (Sido) senior business development officer, Jonathan Mbailuka says mushrooms from Tanzania are highly preferred for export due to their delicious taste. China, United States, India and Japan are the major mushroom producers where a kilo sells at between $30 (Sh69,000) and $40 (Sh92,000), according to Jonathan. After realising the export potential of mushrooms, Sido requested funds from the Tanzania Education Authority (TEA) under the Skills Development Levy (SDL) for training 400 entrepreneurs based in Dar es Salaam.
“We received Sh130 million from the institution that enabled us to provide the said training on the areas of farming and processing different products such as biscuits, nutrition flour, etc,” he says.
In Dar es Salaam, Jonathan says there are 15 entrepreneur growers, whereas 50 others engage in processing under Sido mentorship. “Sh7 million has been allocated for competitive packaging trainings and production of mushroom seeds. The sum will also be used to aide their involvement in this year’s Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair shows,” he notes.
The mushroom market is estimated to account for a value of $16.7 billion in 2020, with forecasts showing it will significantly grow due to increased consumption preference, increased per capita consumption, cost-effective in its production and amplified skills and knowledge among farmers and stakeholders.