Determined to reduce the rate of unemployment in the country, Mushroom Farmers Association of Nigeria (MFAN), said it would create over five million direct and indirect jobs for Nigerians.
However past and present governments have ventured into one form of agricultural programmes or the other notable among which are Green Revolution, Operation Feed the National, including the one put forward by the immediate past administration under former president Goodluck Jonathan christened Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA).
It is important to note from the onset that any government that has the political will to tackle agricultural development in the country cannot escape the reality of cost of machinery as only mechanized agriculture could drive the economy of any nation.
This was disclosed by the group president, Mr. Olukanmi Balogun, while reading the communiqué at the end of its third quarter 2015 strategic review meeting in Lagos. He said since the current administration is emphasizing job creation and diversification of the economy, MFAN was ready to key into the vision and support the policy direction of the government in the interest of Nigerians.
China came into limelight as major world producer of mushrooms through the introduction of what has come to be known as the Household Responsibility System (HRS) reforms which took place in that country.
Reports have it that China produces more than 8 million metric tons of mushrooms valued at over 40 billion US dollars and employing over 30 million people.
This shows a dramatic increase from the 60,000 metric tons before the 1978 reforms. Today, according to reports, Pennsylvania is reputed to be the leading producer of mushroom in the world employing over 10 million people that produce mushroom valued at more than 63.8 million US dollars.
If Asian countries were well into the business of mushroom production and solving unemployment and other economy related activities, the group president believes Nigeria can also benefit in that direction. Apart from making a lot of money, they cultivate them for the production of drugs, food supplements and so on, so if you go into cultivation “you can either go into the cultivation of edible mushrooms or medicinal mushrooms which is today big business” he said. Due to the medicinal potentials of mushroom they can be used in the fortification of foods.
According to the president, estimated Nigeria’s demand for mushroom is around 1000 to 2000 metric tons per year. He expressed optimism that mushroom production can create jobs in Nigeria and reduce poverty and restiveness which has characterized the youth in recent times.
He said if well articulated, mushroom business was capable of improving the agricultural output as well as boosting the industrial development of the nation.
He described mushrooms cultivation as “white Agricultural Revolution” said if a youth was empowered with at least N30,000 to N40,000 to learn mushroom cultivation, they would be able to have a turnover of between N500,000 to N1 million within 6-10 months.
At the end of that period, he should be able to have close to N1 million at his disposal. “I am talking about 30,000 to N40,000 weekly in one month that translates to more than N1 million. It is a cumulative sale of mushroom” he said.
It is revealed that lack of infrastructure, scarcity of mushroom biologists, poor political and legislative support, bad press report, low mushroom benefit awareness, cultural beliefs, fear of food poisoning, lack of finance, and lack of technical support from national and international agencies are some of the problems of mushroom cultivation in Nigeria. This has threatened most mushroom farms in the country by a lot of job losses, low production capacity and total close down.
However, experts are unanimous on the need for controlled scientific cultivation of mushrooms to check the possible incidence of mushroom poisoning accassioned by picking of mushrooms in the wild. For example, a national daily some years ago carried a story about a family in Okpokhumi-Emai in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State that died after eating a meal served with mushroom soup. This problem arose and will still arise as long as people depend on collecting mushroom from the wild, and the practice is fraught with the danger of collecting edible mushroom along with poisonous ones, according to Prof. Okhuoya.
According to him, members resolved that encouragement from government to provide a dedicated and a sustainable funding window, increase political and legislative support would go a long way for the development of mushroom and increase job opportunities.
According to the group, now that women empowerment was taking centre stage in terms of representation for them in the country, it was imperative that women be encouraged now to go into mushrooms production because of its emphasis on scientific methods as opposed to the crude methods of conventional farming among the women.
“The case for women empowerment is even more critical at this point in time when emphasis for greater representation for women is gaining momentum in the country.“Mushroom production can be considered a veritable vehicle for women empowerment in the field of agriculture because of its scientific and refined nature and appeal, purged of the drudgery of our present conventional agricultural systems with hoes, machetes etc, he counseled.
He said MFAN could help the country in creating foreign exchange and provide ready market for mushroom farmers. He stressed that mushroom farming industry has enormous potential as employers of labour and revenue generator to add value to local commodities. He has urged the Federal Government to invest in pharmaceutical mushroom, known as “ganoderma,” used in producing drugs for HIV/AIDS patients. He said that the medicinal qualities of the ganoderma mushroom were high, noting that the mushroom was already being used in Sweden to manufacture drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS.
He also proposed the adoption of the cooperative lending model as practiced in other countries such as Bangladesh for lending to small businesses to address the issue of lack of collateral. These measures will go a long way in checking the problem of lack of access to funds that is hampering the growth and development of the agricultural sector.
There is no doubt that a well structured mushroom sub-sector can stimulate the economy and contribute significantly to employment generation, wealth creation and development in Nigeria. The president stressed, “if we grow mushroom massively we don’t have need to import fertilizer because the wastes are nutritious to plants”.
The current economic realities facing us as a nation caused by declining crude oil price, the foreign exchange crises and significant capital outflows require a fundamental diversification of the economy. “Therefore, a new impetus must be generated to expand the operational horizon of mushroom cultivation in Nigeria toward achieving this objective.
The group further called on government to encourage local mushroom farmers, reduce over reliance on importation of food and mushroom meal to safeguard national health. According to him, MFAN has resolved to adopt international best practices, state of the art technology make spawn (mushroom seeds) readily available and affordable to local farmers to move the industry to new heights to satisfy national demand.
The meeting also called on president Buhari to revisit the presidential initiative on mushroom production. He called on the government through the ministry of Agriculture to intervene so that individuals and even groups can key into mushroom production which he sayscould help curb youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region. MFAN further called on the national Assembly and various stakeholders to perform their oversight function on food value chain”.