On a sunny morning, Francis Silingi is with a group of farmers at the Hamusavi Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Manyatta, Kakamega County.
Silingi is a member of the society and is explaining to farmers how to grow mushrooms. He says this begins with choosing a substrate (a substance on which mushroom grows).
“Examples of substrates are sawdust and cereal straws,” explains Silingi, the manager of the group started in 2003 as a welfare association.
“We do a lot of training here and every farmers’ group pays Sh10,000. We train them how to grow mushrooms and also to process them.”
The processing, or adding value, puts good money in the group’s bank account. But they also sell dry mushrooms at Sh2,000 a kilo, fresh at Sh300 a kilo and seeds at Sh500 a kilo.
Hamusavi members mainly process mushroom powder, which they use to make soup and blend in pawpaw jam, milk, tea, coffee, cake and porridge.
“The main aim of crushing the mushroom into powder is to enable those people who get irritated by its smell to consume the produce,” says Silingi, adding that the crop takes only 23 days to mature.
The group starts with sorting the mushrooms soon after harvesting. The good ones, which are those that do not have diseases, are separated from the rest.
“We, thereafter, dry the good mushrooms using a solar drier for two days to a cracking sound. Poor handling of mushroom during drying can lead to loss of nutritional value, flavour and colour.”
To make the powder, they crush the dried mushroom in a blender or in case of bulk processing, they use a milling machine.
A kilo of dried mushroom produces a similar quantity of powder. The powder is then blended in pawpaw jam.
To make the jam, they start by extracting the seeds from pawpaw fruit, then crush it into pulp in a blender. “We then mix the pawpaw pulp with stevia, honey and later mushroom powder in different ratios. It’s heated and packed in containers of various sizes while still warm to prevent it from condensing,” says Silingi, adding that they also blend mushroom powder with millet flour used to make porridge.
Similarly, Silingi explains that to make a blend of mushroom tea, they buy processed tea at Sh400 a kilo from Mudete Tea Factory and add in it mushroom powder.
Coffee is bought at Sh300 a kilo and blended with mushroom.
“We pack mushroom powder in 50g sachets which go for Sh150. On the other hand, 150g pack of porridge flour blended with mushroom goes for Sh150, 150g of coffee and tea at Sh150 each and pawpaw jam (400g) for Sh250. A 50g pack of dried vegetable mixed with mushroom goes for Sh100,” explains Silingi, adding that their mushroom powder is certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards.
The group sells their products to individuals and in supermarkets in Kisumu, Eldoret, Trans Nzoia, Vihiga and Busia counties.
GOOD SOURCE OF PROTEIN
Prof Asenath Sigot, a nutrition scientist at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, says mushroom is a good source of protein as it is rich in sodium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium at the same time it contains low cholesterol levels.
“Mushroom helps in digestion because it contains dietary fibres and is ideal for people who want to reduce weight because it has low fat content.”
Prof Sigot says adding value to mushroom is important because it aids many people access its nutritional and medicinal value.
“Mushroom is a versatile crop but not many people consume it. Once milled, one expands its use and accessibility.”