Mbale embarks on mushroom growing

THREE sub-counties in Mbale district have established local mushroom spawn centres in a bid to eradicate poverty.
In 1992 the Government gazetted the former reserve forest into Mt. Elgon National Park. Communities that had settled in the forest were evicted. This was done to preserve the forests and other natural resources under threat by the increasing population.
The park project was conceived after a study on conflict management resolution in 1996. Some of the recommendations included provision of alternatives that would reduce dependency on the park resources, such as mushroom growing, apiary, fish farming, energy conservation, sustainable agriculture, plant nursery management, biogas establishment and zero grazing.
In March 2000, Integrated Rural Development Initiative (IRDI), a community-based organisation, was introduced in Mbale. It took up the responsibility of implementing sustainable environment management projects in the three sub-counties of Buwabwala, Kaato and Bushika.
The mushroom spawn centres were set up with the financial support of this organisation. The centres now produce seeds for the whole district supported by the District Mushroom Association.
Betty Watoya, a farmer in charge of mushroom spawning in Kaato sub-county, said the organisation has helped them to practice sustainable agriculture.
“The demand for mushrooms is increasing as our income and status shoot up,” she said.
Andrew Yiga, the organisation project officer then, said because of the demand for mushrooms, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry sent a specialist to the district to explore avenues of boosting production.
“A consultant was identified at Makerere University to carry out selection and acquisition of mushroom culture materials and produce spawn from the local varieties preferred by the community. Local variety spawn was produced, but has not proven successful in the field conditions,” Yiga said.
“The demand for mushrooms has increased although they still remain an untapped income resource. It is an income that can lift both the rural and the urban poor households,” he said.
Yiga said mushroom growing does not require big chunks of land. “No degradation and no land fragmentation. For long, people have been collecting mushrooms from the mountain forests.”
In order to ensure sustainability, IRDI trained seven mushroom growing trainers. A set of equipment has been given to farmers in each sub-county centre.
The composition of mushroom lump substrate and the environment determines which fungi and microbe can grow on it. Some fungi can grow on a variety of substrate while others are selective. The selectivity depends on availability of nutrients, pH, microbial activity, aeration and water content or free water activity.
A substrate is a material on which mushroom grows, such as cotton husks, rice and maize straw. Others are maize cobs, banana leaves, sawdust, coffee husks and sugarcane bagasse. Cotton husks substrate is the best. On the seventeenth day, you start harvesting.

The lump substrates are put in a dark room for 14 days. After the 14 days, light is allowed into the room as they flush out. Normally three flushes of mushrooms appear on each lump, with the second flush having more mushrooms than the first and the third flush. Openings are made on the sides using razors to allow the mushrooms penetrate the polythene casing.
Watoya says the room must be kept moist by watering the mushroom lumps everyday.
“From the 17th day to the 30th, mushrooms start coming out depending on the type of substrate used,” she said.
She says harvesting of mushrooms begins after one month. “The mature mushroom should be grasped by the stalk and gently twisted and pulled with clean hands.”

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