The National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS) estimates that Kenya only manages to produce 500 tonnes of mushroom per year against its annual demand of 1200 tonnes. This means that more than 700 tonnes are imported annually to sustain the high domestic demand, further stretching the country’s wide trade deficit.
But a recent study by Egerton University indicates that the country has the capacity to produce six times its current rate and dethrone Egypt as the leading exporter of the commodity in the continent if smallholder farmers are equipped with relevant skills and spawn to produce mushroom for commercial purposes. Currently, almost 95 per cent of commercial mushroom in the country is produced by two large scale growers: Agridutt and Rift valley Mushrooms.
According to the study, mushroom, especially the Oyster type requires fewer resources to grow and has higher yields and nutritional value compared to contemporary crops like maize mostly grown by smallholder farmers across the country. An eighth of an acre has the capacity to produce a tonne of mushroom in 2-3 weeks time, which trades for at least Sh600 per kilo.
The report, however, noted that smallholder farmers are shy to adopt mushroom farming due to high initial production costs made worse by scarcity of spawn and high risks during the whole production process.
In a bid to woo smallholder farmers into growing mushrooms, local universities in the country are conducting intensive researches to develop high value spawns which they later sell to smallholder farmers at much affordable price. Leading the pack is Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), who are producing sterilized substrate and sells them at Sh600 per kilo. Apart from selling spawn, experts from the institution offer free training services to their clients.
Besides offering free extension services to smallholder mushroom farmers, Egerton University late last year introduced short course program on Mushroom Production for farmers in Kenya. The training focuses on Oyster and Button mushroom production with emphasis on spawn production, handling; cultivation ; harvesting procedures; diseases and pests management; Post harvest processing; value addition; marketing and economics of mushroom production.
Farmers are also trained on the design and construction of recommended mushroom house. The agricultural based university also boost of a mushroom spawn production unit where major varieties Oyester and Button are bred and sold to farmers at much affordable fee.
With more stakeholders coming on board to encourage smallholder farmers to produce mushroom, Kenya should perhaps be prepared to harvest economic benefits hidden in the rich mushroom export market across the globe.