I needed only Sh12,000 to set up this model mushroom farm

Silah Serem at his grass-thatched mud-walled hut where he grows mushrooms in Ng‘enyilel, Nandi County. [PHOTO: ELIUD KIPSANG/STANDARD]

ELDORET: When he chose to study sustainable agriculture, Silah Serem never thought fate was leading him to mushroom farming.

Barely three months after he graduated with a diploma in sustainable agriculture from the University of Eldoret (UOE), Serem has established a model mushroom production venture that is causing ripples in his village.

Although it is still on trial, he is already reaping profits from permaculture practice. Permaculture is the process through which a sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystem is developed.

So profitable has it been that the young farmer is already making plans to expand it.

Centre of attraction

From his mushroom project, Serem is slowly becoming a role model at Ng’enyilel village, Mosop constituency in Nandi County where he produces and processes mushrooms.

Nandi is synonymous with maize and dairy production, but the 28-year-old is keen to encourage others to diversify.

“With a simple grass thatched house, one is good to go. I make use of simple and available materials like maize cobs considered waste after harvesting. Mushrooms do not require use of chemicals, making it eco-friendly. All these facts make it affordable to all social classes and this really motivates me,” Serem tells Smart Harvest.

The simple structure at his parents’ farm has become the centre of attraction as villagers troop in to inquire more about the mushroom venture.

It all started after Serem visited a website wishing to apply for a job at Food Pantry organisation in New York, US. He was offered an opportunity but lacked a travel visa.

But the organisation sponsored him for a permaculture course at Sandana forest in Samburu. The short course was attended by budding farmers from Singapore, China, Germany, America, Italy, Brazil, Australia, Mozambique and Haiti.

During the training, he met Jesse Amsterdam Cohen, a permaculture expert from the US who told him he was proceeding to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Western Kenya.

“I invited Mr Cohen to my home where he stayed with me for a week. He encouraged me to start a mushroom project,” says Serem, who has also gained support from the American institution.

In December last year he invested Sh12,000 by erecting a traditional hut with mud-walls and grass-thatched roof. He had just requested his parents for a small site in the family farm for the project.

He then collected maize cobs from his father’s maize harvest.

“I crashed and soaked the cobs to make substrates (block like material that provides a surface where fungi seeds grow as mushrooms),” he says.
The maize cob substrate also contains molasses, some chick mash and lime, which are ideal for fungi growth.

Serem made 510 substrates of two kilograms each and steamed them for two hours to rid them of any disease causing organisms. He then planted a spoonful of seeds (mole like fungi) on each of the substrates and placed them on simple shelves in the housing structure.

Within eight to 15 days, the mushrooms start growing. They are ready for harvest every four days and will keep growing for four months.

All Serem does is to closely monitor the mushrooms and harvest them when they are mature. There are no additional inputs, no weeding and no spraying.

“My small project is on trial. From the Sh12,000 I invested, I have already generated Sh30,000 and I am still making more. What encouraged me into this venture is the desire to diversify agricultural production. I wanted something unique that could mobilise youths into self reliance,” he says.

His initial harvest was consumed by his family. He now packs the mushrooms before selling them.

Ready market

“After harvesting, I dry the mushrooms and package them for sale. There is a ready market in parts of Western Kenya. Some NGOs also buy our products,” he says.

The young farmer is now motivating locals, especially the youth, to enhance their income generating ventures through mushrooms.

“This kind of farming is so fascinating as it can be established from waste and fetches high returns,” he says.

Mushrooms provide several key nutrients to the human body. They are highly nutritious and are said to enhance immunity to diseases.

He sells the produce at between Sh800 and Sh 1,800 per kilogramme.

According to Serem, the cost of producing one kilogramme of mushroom is approximately Sh130. A mature mushroom fetches around Sh610, making it the highest gross-margin profit in agricultural enterprise.

The demand for the product is high. Kenya produces 500 tonnes of mushrooms annually. Yet her annual demand is about 1,200 tonnes.

Mushrooms require the right humidity, temperature and high standard of hygiene to thrive.

Fresh mushrooms have a high water content, around 90 per cent. Drying them is therefore an effective way to prolong their shelf-life and preserve their flavour and nutrients.

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