Dar es Salaam. Pelagia Rikongoro was a housewife and not sure of the income that could help her raise her family as she wished.Despite having dreams of learning and engaging in entrepreneurship, it was not easy for her to achieve her goals as she did not have enough training and could not afford the cost of such training.But, along the way, Ms Pelagia was fortunate as she was linked to the Skills Development Project (SDF) which is coordinated by the Tanzania Education Authority (TEA) and funded by the government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the World Bank as part of the Tanzania Education and Skills for Productive Jobs Programme (ESPJ).The project aims at capacitating Tanzanians who are involved in agriculture, agribusiness, and agro-processing in order to enhance their skills and foster their productivity, efficiency, and economic growth.Ms Pelagia is one of more than 400 beneficiaries who received funding for entrepreneurship training, in areas such as processing and value addition of food crops, spices and mushroom farming. She was trained by the Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO) in Dar es Salaam.“It was my long-term dream of growing mushrooms but I did not get the right information or instructions for this venture,” explains Ms Pelagia, a resident of Dar es Salaam who runs mushroom farming in Kinyerezi suburb of Ilala municipality.For a long time Ms Pelagia struggled to find knowledge and skills about mushroom cultivation without success. Through the SDF grant, Ms Pelagia has successfully fulfilled her dream and is currently cultivating mushrooms that enable her to earn a living.The mother of one, who lived with her son and her mother as the main breadwinner, says she received information about the SDF training opportunity through a friend and without hesitation she seized the opportunity by submitting an application to SIDO, for training opportunity.She finally graduated from the mushroom farming training and immediately prepared a mushroom farm and kicked off farming.
Ms Pelagia, who is currently an entrepreneur, says she was fascinated by mushroom cultivation due to its benefits such as nutrition, mineral therapy and various vitamins. At present the crop is not very popular in the country and a large portion of consumers depend on wild mushrooms for special periods.According to experts, currently only a small percentage of Tanzanians benefit from mushroom nutrition as it is not widely produced and is available only in large supermarkets where one kilo of Mushrooms sells for between Sh8, 000 to Sh10, 000.Ms Pelagia has the biggest dream of this crop, believing that many Tanzanians should use and benefit from the nutrition and medicine found in the Mushroom plant. "I want this crop to reach every Tanzanian due to its health benefits," adds Ms Pelagia emphatically.In support of Pelagia's efforts, the SDF project through the World Bank funding has successfully provided her with a vegetable solar dryer, which she will use to dry mushrooms and other vegetables as part of adding value to her products and prolonging her mushroom crops after harvesting.Speaking about her future plans, Ms Pelagia says she aspires to open and register a company that will oversee Mushroom production and marketing in and out of Tanzania.This farmer, however, is faced with some challenges including access to quality seeds, a situation that affects production, increasing production costs thus contributing to the mushroom price being high and making the crop look like it only belongs to people with better income.SIDO Dar es Salaam regional manager, Mr Ridhiwan Matange, thanked the government for enabling his institution to provide such entrepreneurship training to more than 400 beneficiaries including Ms Pelagia.Mr Matange said the funding has helped SIDO strengthen its training capacity especially in the expansion area. This, he says, is due to SDF funding, they have renovated the building that is used for training, purchased teaching materials including projector, chairs and tables.The aim of the training is to ensure food security, creating employment to women and youths because this farming needs very little capital and crops are obtained within a very short time, recycling the farm wastes, reducing environmental damage by using wastes, getting mushrooms with enough vitamin and reducing deaths due to using poison mushrooms.Like Pelagia, trainees get skills to prepare sheds that they use in mushroom farming, preparing substrates, putting substrates in plastic bags, sowing seeds in plastic bags and saving plastic bags in a dark room for 2-4 weeks, then swaying the plastic bags on the shelf.SDF is a fund aimed at enabling training institutions to increase quality and efficiency in providing skills and vocational training in key sectors in the country which are agriculture, economy, tourism and hospitality services, Transport, construction, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) ) and Energy.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-effectiveness in its production and amplified skills and knowledge among farmers and stakeholders.
Why mushroom mattersAccording to experts, mushrooms are a rich; low calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They may also mitigate the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.Mushrooms are also a good source of vitamin B, C, and D, including niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and folate, and various minerals including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. They provide carbohydrates, but are low in fat and fiber, and contain no starch. They are also a source of income to farmers.People from many tribes in Tanzania eat wild mushrooms. Mushrooms are rich in proteins and vitamins. This makes them a potentially valuable and relatively cheap source of proteins, particularly for the low-income section of the population. However, their seasonal availability makes wild mushrooms an unreliable source of proteins. To ensure and improve on their availability, mushroom cultivation needs to be developed. Various species of mushrooms have been identified and intentionally cultivated for either food or medicinal purposes.