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Mushrooms give two friends a job they yearned for

Saturday August 24 2019

Alfred Kalama and Nelly Mwajefa display mushrooms they cultivate in their enterprise in Kilifi.

Nelly Mwajefa (foreground) and Alfred Kalama display mushrooms they cultivate in their enterprise in Kilifi. Together with his friend Dennis Osodo, Kalama runs the enterprise dubbed Aldeda Mushroom Ventures, with the help of Mwajefa. PHOTO | BOZO JENJE | NMG 

BOZO JENJE
By BOZO JENJE
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Inside the mud-walled structure near Kadzandani Primary School in Kilifi County, Dennis Osodo carries a knapsack on his shoulders, pumping the gadget with his left hand as he uses the right to direct the nozzle to the roof of the house.

Sitting pretty in dozens of polythene bags on shelves in the room are mushroom crops.

One may think Osodo is applying some chemicals but the mushroom farmer is misting the room to ensure the temperature is below 200C and humidity about 95 per cent.

Osodo, together with his friend Alfred Kalama, run the mushroom business dubbed Aldeda Mushroom Ventures.

“We came up with the idea of mushroom farming because research has shown that it is not capital intensive and has good returns. We visited growers in Voi, Mwatate, Nairobi and Kakamega before we started the venture,” said Kalama, 25, who holds a certificate in electrical engineering and is the CEO of the enterprise.

His partner, Osodo, who is the director of the business, holds a diploma in medical laboratory technology.

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“Before we teamed up, we were both working but the pay was not good despite the hours we put in,” say the two, who attend the same church where they met and raised over Sh100,000 capital together, part which went to leasing land at Sh15,000, buying 20kg spawns at Sh20,000 and constructing the mud house at Sh40,000.

A mushroom expert Paul Kisiangani of the Agricultural Youth Society of Kenya, trained the two on growing, processing, storage and marketing the crop before they hit the ground running in October last year.

“We grow the Oyster variety,” says Kalama. “The process starts with the mixing of the substrate where the mushroom grows. They include maize cobs, sawdust, agricultural lime, wheat bran and molasses in various ratios. Maize cobs are preferred because they have bigger biomass and high cellulose content and cost Sh200 to Sh400 a sack whereas cocopeat is Sh70 a kilo.”

The substrate is then sterilised, put in polythene bags and the spawns (mushroom seedlings) placed in there.

EXPANDING THE BUSINESS

Osodo explains that mushrooms sprout after about a month and harvesting starts soon after. After harvesting, the farmers sort the produce, sell some raw and dry the rest, blend with various flour, before selling.

“We harvest approximately two tonnes in three months. The dried ones have a shelf-life of about 45 days after harvest,” says Osodo. “We normally crush them, blend the flour with sorghum, cassava and pumpkin flour to end up with a nutritious product.”

The trio with the mushrooms outside a shed in their enterprise.

The trio with the mushrooms outside a shed in their enterprise. They are looking at expanding their business by building more mud houses as demand increases. PHOTO | BOZO JENJE | NMG

Some people, according to Kalama, prefer to mix the mushroom powder with ginger, tea or coffee. “We sell the exhausted substrate as manure or animal feed, making some more income. A 90kg bag goes for Sh500,” he says, noting their first harvest was in November 2018, with the two selling 500g of mushroom powder at Sh500, 1kg is Sh1,000 and while a punnet of the raw product goes for Sh300.

Currently, they only sell to households and hotels, but they are now eyeing supermarkets, with the duo having employed Nelly Mwakera, 24, to assist them in financial management.

Kalama and Osodo note that they are looking at expanding the business by building more mud houses as demand rises.

“We have trained 15 farmers and provide extension services in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties,” says Kalama, adding their challenges include high temperatures, rats that eat the mycelium and the lack of enough yields to satisfy the market demand.

Kisiangani says hygiene, quality spawns for planting and favourable climatic conditions are key considerations is mushroom farming.

“The substrate should be mixed well for good results since materials that are rich in nutrients produce larger mushrooms and production last longer.”

He notes that flies and rats should be controlled using traps to avoid contaminating the mushrooms.