There is a wrong perception that mushroom farming is a walk in the park. You start today and reap the rewards tomorrow. “Far from it. I also embraced the project with that mentality and was in for a rude shock. The journey has been quite bumpy but I am now at a comfortable place,” Kahinju Muhia, from Dagoretti South opens up during the interview. Muhia started mushroom farming on a high note in 2009, and his journey has been a learning experience. He shares his experiences with Smart Harvest and how he overcame one hurdle after another and finally how he got his big breakthrough. “Like all young excited farmers, I knew I wanted to start mushroom farming but I had little information about it. I did not know any crop expert or farmer doing it. For more direction, I turned to the Internet,” he says. After digging up stuff online, Muhia, 28, realised he needed more. “I wanted an expert whom l could interact with at personal level,” he says. In his fact-finding mission, a friend told him about Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology short training courses on mushroom farming. He enrolled for a two-week programme that cost Sh15,000. The course he says, was quite comprehensive and he learnt a lot. That sorted, his next hurdle was capital. He borrowed a soft loan from his parents. Armed with info and capital, early 2010, he rolled out the project. Soul-searching He bought 50 bales of wheat straw, a makeshift room and machine for steaming. He purchased seeds from a local agent at Sh12,000 per packet. With everything on course, he thought everything would run smoothly and soon he would hit the market with his bumper harvest. He was in for a rude shock.
“I nearly got ulcers. The seeds withered and I had no idea why. In retrospect, I think it was because I did not get the temperatures right. Some seeds also got contaminated because I had not adhered to strict hygiene standards. I was so discouraged I did not know what to do next,” he recalls nostalgically. In his soul-searching, he toyed with abandoning the mushrooms project all together and embrace crops like tomatoes, onions, carrots, sukuma wiki and spinach, which had ‘less stress’. Before making a drastic decision, he took some time off to reflect on his next course of action. “After that period of rest, I gathered the pieces and embarked on the journey again. This time round, I did not just rely on the training and the Internet alone, I also got an expert and worked with him every step of the way. I did not want to make the same blunders again,” Muhia, a father of two says. Lucky for him, things went well and in three months, he got his first harvest. His neighbours offered a ready market and managed to make Sh140,000. Slowly, things started picking up. In the second harvest, Muhia reaped close to Sh300,000 which he sold to hotels and supermarkets. Opportunities started coming his way and he even made a cool Sh1 million, in one season. “I had never thought I would one day drive a car, but thanks to mushroom farming now I am driving a car worth Sh2.5 million. I can confidently say farming pays,” he says. Muhia plants nutritional mushrooms like buttons and oyster and herbal gernodama and has employed five people. Having learnt the hard way, Muhia is a master in mushroom farming who even trains a number of farmers on the same. Today, Muhia has close to 50 farmers spread across Kajiado, Kisumu, Kisii, Machakos, Kiambu, Thika and Ngong whom he trains under his farm which he has christend, Jolin Farm. Soul-searching At Jolin Farm, he plants mushroom, trains upcoming farmers, seeks market for them and distributes prepared seeds. His clients are hotels and supermarkets. He also trains a number of banks and other corporate, which do agribusiness as part of their CSR. Though he is now settled, he still encounters some small challenges. For instance, sometimes he purchases contaminated seeds that fail to grow. He explains that is double trouble when he sells them them to aspiring farmers. “At times, the new farmers l supply seeds with blame me for their losses. Some even demand for compensation since I am responsible for the loss, yet those l buy from do not compensate me. But I am learning how to spot the fake seeds,” Muhia points out.
To avoid making costly mistakes like Muhia, crop expert George Mbakahya, says it is important for an aspiring mushroom farmer to seek training on the same before they sink their money into the venture. “It is good to attend seminars and training on mushroom farming before a farmer kicks off the project. There are some complicated procedures in mushroom farming that can only be learnt at a training forum,” Mbakahya says. Mbakahya says cleanliness is paramount when it comes to mushroom farming. The fungi require germ-free environment and this can only be achieved through sterilisation. The material used in the process ought to be sterilised by steaming. The expert says farmers can use a simple sterilisation procedure which involves immersing the bags full of the substrate in boiling water for about one hour to get rid of any germs. Then, suspend the gunny bags overnight to let them cool off. He warns that another way contamination can be introduced is during planting (inoculation). He says clean planting materials can be purchased from JKUAT. He says farmers should sterilise hand gloves before mixing the spawn with the substrate. Methylated spirit can also be used. Mbakahya says mushrooms are on high demand because of their health benefits. What about value addition? Mbakahya says that there exists a lot of possibilities through value addition. “For example when grounded, and mixed with amaranth and sorghum they make delicious porridge mix,” the expert says.