The homestead in Ndeiya in Limuru, Kiambu County, looks like any other in a peri-urban set-up, with a stone house standing at the centre and other small houses on the periphery.
At a corner of the compound stands a one-room mud-walled house, rectangular in shape.
The hut is Leonard Mukirai’s mushroom farm. We find him using a sprayer pump to water the mushroom crop that he has planted on shelves and polythene bags.
“I started mushroom farming three years ago. I am a full-time farmer,” says Mukirai, a University of Nairobi Plant Science and Crop Protection graduate.
On the day of our visit on the farm, which belongs to his parents, in Wakaguthi village, Mukirai had just returned from Nairobi where he had delivered the day’s harvest.
“I took the harvest packed in 150 punnets of 250 grams each to buyers. I sell each at Sh150,” Mukirai says, adding he harvests daily.
He started the venture after clearing university four years ago and failing to get a white-collar job.
Together with six friends from the village, some university graduates, they brain-stormed on what to do for income generation.
The idea of mushroom farming came to mind. Since some of them had pursued mushroom production as a course at the university, it was the viable option.
They visited two farmers to learn the practical aspect of mushroom farming and its profitability. But they had one major hurdle – capital since they could not raise the Sh50,000 needed to start individual farms.
They, thus, started a joint venture, raising the Sh50,000 to give birth to Bannie-El Farm.
Part of the money was used on 50 bales of heat straw, which costs Sh200 each, eight bags of chicken manure each at Sh300, 50kg of cotton seed that costs Sh2,200, molasses (20 litres) at a cost is Sh800, 12kg of urea at Sh70 per kilo, 15kg of bioactive macrob at Sh100 per kilo, 50kg of agricultural lime at Sh600, 50kg of gypsum at Sh1,200 and for soil, they put one-and-a-half inch casing.
“We also bought mushroom seeds (spawns), which cost Sh11,000,” he recounts.
But before they planted the button variety mushrooms, they sought market for the produce through the established farmers, securing it at restaurants in Nairobi and the City Market.
Mushroom takes two months to mature, after which if well tendered, the crop is harvested every day for two months before one plants again.
“I can say we were lucky because our agribusiness did well, earning us between Sh10,000 and 15,000 per day for two months. We managed to raise money to enable each one of us start their individual farms, but we have still retained the joint farm,” Mukirai says.
They jointly take care of the farm since they all live in the same village, but they have also contracted young people, mostly Form Four leavers, who they are also training on mushroom farming. The farm doubles up as a training centre.
On Mukirai’s farm, he has planted the crop on five beds (in form of shelves) and in dozens of polythene bags.
“Mushroom business is profitable because one can make up to Sh1 million from a 10 by 10 metres cubical,” says Mukirai, who is in his tenth season.
Not far from Mukirai’s farm, we meet Bob Kimaku, a Bio Chemistry graduate from Egerton University.
He is attending to his mushroom crop which is currently at the incubation stage.
Kimaku has planted the crop on 12 shelves, all of which are expected to produce at least 30kg or 120 punnets of the produce daily.
“When time comes for harvesting, I will earn at least Sh18,000 per day because a kilo of mushrooms goes for up to Sh600,” says Kimaku, who has planted the crop since mid 2016 as a full-time farmer.
Production of the crop depends on how well one takes care of it, though like other crops, there are times the harvest declines.
According to him, demand for mushroom is too high that the seven of them are always forced to turn down orders because they cannot meet the demand.
“We have specific hotels, supermarkets and brokers who make orders from us every day but we have never been able to meet even 10 per cent of the orders they request from us. We supply them in turns despite increasing our capacity by running individual farms.”
While they grow the crop separately, they market and sell the produce under the brand Bannie-EL Farm.
During harvesting, Kimaku has to hire four people, paying each Sh500 per day.
“To get started in mushroom farming, have wheat straw, molasses, chicken manure, bioactive microbes, cotton seeds, urea, fertiliser, agricultural lime, gypsum and pesticides, which are mixed in stages to form substrate,” he offers.
Cotton seeds help to make wheat straw stronger, while fertiliser and urea are added to generate ammonia to make the wheat straw decompose faster.
SMALL PORTION OF LAND
At week three, one adds on the mixture agricultural lime, while gypsum is added in the fourth week before the mushroom seeds are planted through broadcasting.
The mixture is then spread on a shelve, whose bottom has to be a waterproof material or put inside a polythene bag, and transferred inside a room whose walls are thermostatic, paving way for the incubation stage.
The room must be cold and dark since high temperatures and light can cause abnormalities on the crop.
After four weeks, the mushroom starts sprouting, and days after, they are ready for harvesting.
“Other than daily watering after the crop starts to sprout, there is no any other activity or expenses one needs because you do not use any chemicals,” he says.
Kimaku and Mukirai note the crop can be grown in any seeting since it’s the farmer who should maintain the favourable conditions that are needed for better harvest.
“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 which are sourced from South Africa, we buy the other inputs locally,” he says Mukirai.
But its not all rosy, mushroom farming has challenges, with the main one being that the crops sometimes are attracted by flies or rodents.
And since pesticides and other chemicals cannot be used on the crop after the planting, one can lose the entire harvest.
“We control flies by fixing nets (mosquito nets) on the windows and on the entrance door,” Mukirai said. For the rats, they use the normal traps.
Rosemary Kimani, a crops officer in-charge of Kiambu Sub-County, says mushroom farming is a viable and profitable venture since it does not require a large piece of land, does not depend on natural climate, and also there is huge demand for the produce.
“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,” says Kimani.
She adds, “Mushroom, depending on how well the crop has been taken care of, a farmer can harvest every day.”
However, she says the venture is a complex one since it requires a lot of hygiene, and plenty of training to grow it to perfection.
Get it fast
Mushroom gradually replacing meat as a source of protein
- Mushroom is gradually replacing meat in most menus in countries in the west.
- They are low in calories and fat, high in fibre and contains high amounts of fibre.
- 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.
- 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 level.
- Different mushrooms also do well on different substrates.
- For instance, Oyster mushrooms flourish in straw; Shiitakes do well on hardwood dust; button mushrooms grow best in composted manure.