Once a fringe crop that used to grow on its own in forests in Kenya and consumed by few people, mushrooms are increasingly finding spaces on the farms and menus of Kenyans.

The fungi with a myriad of health benefits has turned out to be the wonder crop that savvy farmers are embracing to earn more as the market expands, especially at top hotels and in high-end suburbs.

The crop needs little space to grow, one of the reasons why farmers, especially those in the urban areas like Nairobi, are embracing mushrooms.

Adjacent to Moses Kinyua’s house in Kiambu, on the outskirts of the capital of Nairobi, is a house made of mud and one may think that it is a store or even an outdoor kitchen.

However, the structure is his mushroom farm where he grows hundreds of the plants and supplies to a four-star hotel in the city center and to homes in the neighboring Westlands, an expat district.

“Initially, this was my farm store but I turned it into a mushroom house because of the good business that the crop offers by making shelves inside,” he said on Friday.

Kinyua has made five rows of shelves on the three sides of the walls on which he places plastic bags filled with substrate in which he grows the oyster mushroom variety.

“For commercial mushrooms, we do not grow them in the soil but we make substrate from wheat straw or bagasse, molasses, cotton seeds, chicken manure, urea, fertilizer, agricultural lime, gypsum and pesticides. These are mixed at various stages and it takes about three weeks for the growing media to be ready,” he said.

The farmer does not make the substrate himself but works with an agronomist from an agricultural institution in Kiambu, who does the work for him at 25,000 Kenyan shillings (245 U.S. dollars).

“Once I get the substrate, I put it in polythene bags but other farmers spread on the shelves whose bottom must have a waterproof material. The mushroom seeds called spawns are then planted,” he explained, adding that the room must be dark and temperatures inside must be about 22 degrees Celsius for good results.

The spawns sprout after a month and about a week later, one starts harvesting, which continues for up to three months.

“During this time, the crop should be watered every day and humidity in the room should be low. There is no application of fertilizer or pesticides on the crops,” said Kinyua.

He harvests the produce, packs it in punnets of 250g each and delivers them to the hotel that also hosts foreign tourists, where he has a guaranteed market.

“I sell to them at 1.5 dollars per punnet but sometimes prices rise to 2 dollars when demand is high or fall to 1 dollar when low,” said Kinyua, adding he harvests some 50 punnets a day.

Vincent Mutisya, who has converted one of the rooms in his house in Utawala, Nairobi, into a mushroom farm, also supplies his produce to a hotel along Mombasa Road.

“They use mushrooms to make soup or serve them as separate meal that is accompanied by rice, potatoes, pasta or any other carbohydrates and vegetables because the fungi are a good source of protein. A bowl of soup goes for 2 to 4 dollars depending on the hotel,” said Mutisya, noting he spent 980 dollars to start the business.

Hotels are the biggest buyers of mushrooms, according to Mutisya and Kinyua, but consumption among Kenyan households is also picking up, with most people buying them from fresh produce markets in the capital.

Kenya’s hospitality sector has been on upward trajectory supported by increased international tourist arrivals and local meetings.

A number of hotels and serviced apartments have been opened in the East African nation in the past years as the country similarly hosts various conferences.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that Kenya held 3,844 local conferences in 2017, up from 3,755 recorded in 2016, while the number of delegates came in at 623,749 in 2017, up from 536,674 in 2016.

Hygiene is key in successful mushroom farming, according to Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist in Nairobi.

“You can lose the entire harvest if you do not control flies, mites and sometimes even rats which love to eat the substrate,” she said.

According to her, three types of mushrooms are grown in Kenya namely oyster, button and shiitakes, but the former are most popular because they mature faster and are tastier.

“Mushroom are a wonder crop as they contain dietary fiber which helps digestion. They are also a source of protein, sodium, potassium, calcium and as well as low cholesterol level thus good for people who want to lose weight,” she said, adding boom in mushroom farming has given agronomists like herself good business. Enditem

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