Farmers who have mastered the art of growing mushrooms in Uganda are making a killing. Divine-Caroline Muwanguzi, 27, a resident of Nakasita village in Bugiri District, is one of the few farmers earning extra cash from mushrooms.
She made a decision to join mushroom farming after participating in a training organised by World Vision in her community. “I remember it was in early 2020 when World Vision came to our community to train us,” says Divine-Caroline. “[Trainers] demystified all the negative perceptions and myths around the mushrooms and agriculture related to boosting food security and incomes.”
World Vision uses the Building Secure Livelihoods project model that aims to build and sustain secure livelihoods for poor households. The model involves improving access to finance through Savings for Transformation, changing behaviour through Empowered World View, and improving production and entrepreneurship through local value chain development and business skills training interventions.
A year back, Divine-Caroline was among women who wholly relied on their husbands for survival. But after receiving training on how to grow and process the edible fungus, all that changed for the mother of four (three girls and a boy), as she decided to put into practice what she had learnt.
Mushrooms are lucratively magical,” says Divine-Caroline. “Now the goal is to go commercial.
Her choice of mushroom farming was informed by the fact that it is neither labour intensive nor does it require chunks of land. “I got to learn that I didn’t need a lot of land or hustle too much”, she says.
How Divine-Caroline does it
Divine-Caroline says any farmer interested in mushroom growing has to be ready for a practical session so that they don’t suffer losses. “Mushrooms are very sensitive,” she says. “They [mushrooms] react to anything, including powerful scents from soaps and perfumes, and they’re also affected by too much noise. You must handle with extra care as any condition in excess can impact on the yield.”
In mushroom growing, each polythene bag is counted as a garden and these constitute cotton husks where the mushroom spores (seeds) are introduced to grow. “The gardens need to be placed in a dark, hygienic room free from insects, vectors, smells, and loud sounds that may affect production”, says Divine-Caroline.
The three-stage process of growing mushrooms entails first soaking the cotton husks in water for 12 hours. Next, is steaming the soil under intensive temperature for eight to nine hours, and allowing it to cool for 24 hours. When the soil is cool, introduce the mushroom spores to the polythene bags, have them tied up, and left in a dark room for two weeks for husks to burst open and let out the mushrooms.
After two weeks, Divine-Caroline says that the farmer can transfer the gardens to a well-aerated room, open up the polythene bags and start watering three times daily for three days. “The water is simply sprinkled to ensure that the mushrooms are not waterlogged but only receive a minimum amount of water for proper growth”, she says.
The harvesting of mushrooms then starts on the third and fourth day. “This can go on for three to four months depending on the quality of the mushroom spores and the care extended to the mushrooms”, Divine-Caroline adds.
A thriving business, happy pockets
Divine-Caroline has gone the extra mile to discover more about her new-found love. She has learnt to make her own spores to cut costs and ensure quality and continuity. “I can now control the quality of mushrooms I produce because I am able to get spores”, she says.
The biggest advantage with mushroom growing is that the practice is not dependant on the weather. “With mushroom, there are no seasons”, she says. “If water is available, you can purpose to produce mushrooms and be guaranteed to earn income throughout the year.”
Initially, Divine-Caroline invested UGX400,000 (US$108) to buy oyster mushroom seeds and other materials she needed to grow mushrooms. She started off with 80 gardens and on the third week, started harvesting at least five to 10kgs of fresh mushrooms a day, fetching her between UGX1,500,000 - UGX3,000,000 (about US$405 - US$810) per month. “Now this is worth testifying of the goodness of God!”, says Divine-Caroline whose husband is a part-time pastor at a local community church.
Divine-Caroline is one of the 40 farmers (23 females and 17 males) trained and supported by World Vision on how to grow and manage mushrooms to boost their family incomes.
Inspired by the high demand for mushrooms, Divine-Caroline now thinks of a single option: expansion. But for now, she has to continue purchasing more mushrooms from other farmers to meet her customers’ huge appetite.
And her phone just wouldn’t just ringing throughout this interview: “Yes…yes…how many kilogrammes…alright…on my way.”
Written by Ephraim Pengere – Project Officer (Resilience and Livelihoods) and Fred Ouma - Development Communications Coordinator, World Vision Uganda