Graduates launch joint mushroom farm

Kenya: University graduates launch joint mushroom farm 

In a corner of Leonard Mukirai’s compound in Kenya’s Kiambu County, stands a rectangular, one-room, mud-walled house. This is Mr. Mukirai’s mushroom farm. He is inside, using a sprayer pump to water the mushrooms on shelves and in polythene bags.

He says, “I started mushroom farming three years ago. I am a full-time farmer.”

When Mr. Mukirai finished university, he couldn’t find a job. So he and six friends from the village decided to grow mushrooms, since some of them had learned about mushroom farming in university.

They visited two farmers to learn more. But they faced one major hurdle: capital. They could not each raise 50,000 Kenyan shillings (US$490) to start individual farms.

So they raised the 50,000 shillings together and launched a joint venture: Bannie-El Farm.

The partners bought wheat straw, chicken manure, urea, mushroom spawn, and other ingredients.

But before they started, they looked for markets for their button mushrooms at restaurants and supermarkets in Nairobi.

Their mushrooms take two months to mature. After that, they harvest every day for two months before starting a new batch.

Mr. Mukirai says: “We were lucky because our agribusiness did well, earning us between 10,000 and 15,000 shillings (about US$100-150) per day for two months. We managed to raise money to enable each one of us to start their individual farms, but we have still retained the joint farm.”

This is Mr. Mukirai’s tenth season as a mushroom farmer. His farm doubles as a training centre. He hires young people to help, and teaches them about mushroom farming.

Not far from Mr. Mukirai’s farm, Bob Kimaku attends to his own mushroom crop. He also graduated from university, and has been farming full-time for two years.

Mr. Kimaku sells his mushrooms for up to 600 shillings (US$5.90) per kilogram, earning at least 18,000 shillings (US$177) per day.

He says, “Other than daily watering after the crop starts to sprout, there is no other activity or expenses because you do not use any chemicals.”

He says demand for mushrooms is so high that the seven friends have to refuse orders because they cannot meet demand.

Mr. Kimaku hires four people during the harvesting period, paying each 500 shillings (US$4.90) per day.

While the partners grow their mushrooms separately, they market and sell their produce under the Bannie-EL Farm brand name.

Mr. Mukirai adds: “You can either build a stone house, if you are capable, or a simple mud-walled house, which helps to keep the temperature low irrespective of whether it’s during a dry or rainy season. Other than the seeds [spores] which are sourced from South Africa, we buy the other inputs locally.”

One of the challenges of mushroom farming is keeping away flies and rodents. It is possible to lose the entire harvest to these pests. And pesticides and other chemicals cannot be used on mushrooms after starting the crop.

Mr. Mukirai explains, “We control flies by fixing [mosquito] nets on the windows and on the entrance door.” They use traps to catch rats.

Rosemary Kimani is a crops officer in Kiambu County. She says mushroom farming is a viable and profitable venture since it does not require a large piece of land, does not depend on the climate, and because there is huge demand for the produce.

Mrs. Kimani explains: “You only require a small portion of land where a farmer can build a mud house. The crop does not depend on rainfall since it doesn’t require a lot of water, and irrigation is done using a sprayer pump, meaning it can be grown anywhere.”

However, she says, mushroom farming is complex since it requires hygienic conditions and plenty of training to grow perfect mushrooms.