The market for mushrooms is yet to be fully exploited in Uganda. A few farmers who have mastered the art of growing the nutritious delicacy are making a killing from it.
Laura Kahuga, a civil servant working with the Ministry of Finance as a Foreign Service Officer is one of the few farmers earning extra cash from mushrooms.
She made a decision to join mushroom farming after reading inspirational materials about it over three years ago.
She has demystified all the negative perceptions, myths and stereotypes created by people ignorant of the potential the agricultural sector has in reducing the high unemployment rates in Uganda and improving on household incomes.
Her choice of mushroom farming was informed by the fact that it did not require chunks of land and intensive labour.
“… I got to learn that despite the fact that mushrooms are not labour intensive as other crops, they are very sensitive plants; they react to powerful scents from soaps and perfumes, and they are also affected by too much noise,” Kahuga says in an interview, adding that the said conditions in excess can impact on the yield.
“Mushrooms also require much water when they have been transplanted to their gardens,” she adds.
How Kahuga Does It
Giving details on how mushrooms are grown, Kahuga notes that contrary to other businesses, agriculture and mushrooms in particular calls for hands on training. Any farmer interested in mushroom growing has to be ready for a practical session so that they don’t suffer losses. Besides growing mushrooms for sale at her site in Namugongo, a Kampala suburb, Kahuga also trains interested people in mushroom farming.
“For one to learn how to grow mushrooms, there is need for practical sessions where one learns each stage. In mushroom growing, each polythene bag is counted as a garden and these constitute cotton husks where the mushroom spores (seeds) are introduced to grow. The gardens need to be placed in a dark, hygienic room free from insects and vectors that may affect production,” Kahuga explains.
She adds: “The process of growing mushrooms entails soaking the cotton husks in water for 12 hours, steaming the soil under intensive temperature for 8-9 hours, leaving the heated soil to cool for 24 hours and later introduce the mushroom spores to the polythene bags, tie them up and leave them in a dark room for two weeks for fungus to conquer all the husks.”
She explains that the farmer can then transfer the gardens to a well aerated room, open up the polythene bags and start watering three times daily for three days, but the water is simply sprinkled to ensure that the mushrooms only obtain minimum amount of water to ensure that they are not waterlogged.
“The harvesting of mushrooms then starts on the third and fourth day which can go on for 3-4 months depending on the quality of the mushroom spores and the care extended to the mushrooms,” she says.
Kahuga has gone an extra mile; she has learnt to make her own spores so as to sustain the business and cut on costs.
She adds that the biggest advantage in mushroom growing is that the practice isn’t limited to weather conditions.
“I invested Shs5million when I joined this business; I started off with 1000 gardens and on the third week started harvesting at least 5-10kgs of fresh mushrooms a day. I was supplying eight restaurants then and I would earn Shs1.5-2million per month,” she said, adding that she has since expanded and earns more from the big mushroom market.
“In order to consistently meet the demand, I even purchase some mushrooms from other farmers. So by the end of 2 months, one is in position to gain back the money invested,” she adds.
She boasts of being in position to make millions in her home backyard in Namugongo on simply a few meters of land where the mushroom unit is constructed, stating that contrary to other agricultural practices which call for chunks of land, wealth can be gotten from within your own home backyard.
Kahuga has also started adding value to her mushrooms by drying them.
She says a kilogram of fresh mushrooms in low end markets go for between Shs5000-7000 and in the high end markets; it goes up to Shs10, 000.
Kahuga, who has been in the business since April 2013 notes that despite the fact that the market is available for mushrooms in Uganda, farmers are still faced with the challenge of domestic consumption, inconsistency in supply as well as limited information on the available market opportunities in mushroom production.
“There is need for awareness on the importance of eating mushrooms because improved domestic market makes it easier to tap into the foreign market,” she says, adding that mushrooms mostly consumed in the big hotels, Chinese and Italian restaurants are imported.
She also decries the poor quality and cases of counterfeit mushroom spores as the biggest challenge which she revealed as one of the huddles that almost pushed her out of business at the second time of stock.
Responding to queries on how much one needs as initial capital, Kahuga notes that this depends on how many gardens one desires to start with. But she cautions that one needs adequate market research before going into a massive production scale given the perishability of mushrooms especially if they are not yet in position to add value to them.
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