The mushroom is a plant whose benefits to the body and mind are numerous. It also affords an excellent revenue generation opportunity for those with the know-how to plant and commercialise it.
The high demand for mushrooms in the market today makes it a particularly good business choice. The University of Eldoret has started a mushroom cultivation zone in its resource centre as a reliable source of revenue.
I visited the centre located on the Eldoret-Iten highway, near the Chepkoilel junction, and had a chat with the mushroom project team members, seeking to better understand what informed their choice of the crop, and the gains, so far.
In an interview with Smart Farmer, Prof Julius Onyango Ochuodho, the head of the mushroom project, had this to say
Prof Ochuodho, please, tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a professor of agriculture, specialising in seed science and technology. Before my current role, I had served as the Dean of the School of Agriculture for five years.
Currently, I am a resource mobilisation champion, an appointive role in the institution. My main duty is to identify and participate in activities that will enable the University of Eldoret to mobilise its own resources.
What informed your choice of the mushroom project?
The reality today is that the government doesn’t allocate enough money to the institutions of higher learning.
Every year, the capitation to the universities goes down. Meanwhile, universities are growing and taking in more students.
It is, therefore, important for them to find other sources of income.
We needed to find a crop that has not been grown on a large scale by local farmers in Uasin Gishu. We also needed a crop whose returns would make business sense in a short period of time.
After considering all these factors, the choice was clear.
When did it start?
The resource centre, the wing of the university directly concerned with the growing of mushrooms, was inaugurated in September 2017.
The mushroom project started in January, this year.
Moving forward, what will the project entail?
The mushroom project is meant for two major purposes. The first is to engage in research on mushrooms, including the production of seeds, better known as spawns, and secondly to actively grow mushrooms.
The goal is that in a few years to come, the University of Eldoret outreach centre will be self-reliant. We want to generate enough income to expand the resource centre, and also to give back to the university.
How many members are in the mushroom project team?
Mushroom growing is not labour intensive. We currently have three employees. Apart from the chemical processes we conduct in the lab multiplying the seed and creating the mushroom spawns, everything else can be easily carried out by the small dedicated and talented team.
The mushroom team is made up of myself, Mr Naboth Aoya, the project supervisor, and Mr Jackton Otieno, who does most of the work in the mushroom workshop.
Where do you see the project in the next five years?
We want to think beyond what the average mushroom farmer is doing. Being a university, we should do better. In the next five years, the University of Eldoret
Mushroom Project should become one of the major income generators for the institution. We have already written a research proposal to upscale the activities of the unit.
In addition, we want to expand the mushroom production building. The current building will then be entirely used for research and spawn production.
The university is a good training ground for Kenyans who want to start mushroom farming.
Please explain to us the mushroom project.
Mr. Otieno: The project produces two types of mushrooms, Button and Oyster. In addition, we have Mishitaki spawn for Mishitaki mushrooms, a type of mushroom we hope to fully develop in future.
We also have Oyster and Button spawns.
What’s the difference between Oyster and Button mushrooms?
Mr. Aoya: Oyster mushrooms commonly grow in tropical to temperate regions. They are usually seen sprouting on decaying wood logs and, dying trunks of trees.
They are very easy to identify because they have this (oyster) kind of body.
Their nutritional benefits, include high protein content than that found in normal vegetables, vitamin C, B and a significant amount of folic acid that helps to cure anemia. In addition, they have high potassium, low-fat, carbohydrate and sodium content.
Button mushrooms are the most widely consumed. The common variety grown is the white Button mushroom. That is the type we also produce.
The Button mushrooms’ protein content is quite absorbable. Reaching levels of 60 to 70 per cent in the human body.
Apart from the high amount of retene, the mushroom fights tumours. Button mushrooms are used for medicinal purposes.
The high protein content makes them a popular food of choice for many people.
Explain to us the growing of Oyster mushrooms?
Mr. Otieno: From planting to harvesting, the Oyster mushroom takes approximately two months. It requires the preparation of compost, and the incubation of the spawn in the compost so as to colonize the compost.
This stage takes two to three weeks. After the spawn colonizes the compost, the next stage is aeration, and that takes one week.
After aeration, the mushrooms take one-a-half weeks to reach the harvesting stage.
What about the Button mushrooms?
Mr. Otieno: Button mushrooms take two-and-a-half months. First, we prepare the compost and leave it undisturbed for two weeks after mixing it with the Button spawn.
This is ample time for the spawn to colonize the compost.
Once the two weeks of colonization elapse, we add a casing soil on top of the compost. We obtain the casing soil from top forest soil. We then make sure that the mixture is airtight and leave it undisturbed for 10 days.
Thereafter, we open windows and vents to allow aeration to take place. One can begin harvesting the Button mushroom after one-and-a-half weeks.
Which of the two has a better market value?
Mr. Otieno: Right now, the demand for Button mushrooms is higher than for the Oyster.
At how much do you sell the mushrooms?
Mr. Aoya: Because we are a new entrant in the market, we are still establishing the value, but what we see is highly encouraging.
For a start, we sell a kilo of Oyster mushrooms at Ksh600 and that of Button mushroom goes for Ksh800.
Will the mushroom project be economically viable?
Mr. Aoya: I would say, yes. We haven’t really entrenched the project but we can already see returns. We incubate and grow these mushrooms in two rooms measuring about 8 x 8 metres. Those measurements may seem small but one room has produced 117 kilos of Button and Oyster mushrooms in under three months.
In addition, the demand for mushrooms is high. Mushrooms are considered a classic meal by most high-end hotels. Because of this, there is a constant demand.
So to answer your question, the growing of mushrooms is economically viable.
What challenges you have encountered in the project?
Mr. Aoya: I would say the biggest challenge is in spawn production. We import the penultimate mushroom seeds in very small quantities. Then multiply and generate spawn in our laboratories. We have identified several areas of research that need attention in spawn production.
The goal of the research is to shorten the vegetative period and lengthen the productive period. Currently, we need three months from the start to harvesting mushrooms. We want to see if we can shorten this period and maximize or lengthen the harvesting period.
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