It is hidden inside a fence in the leafy, mixed class suburb in Makindye, west of Kampala city. Inside the fence, perhaps, sitting on about 10 decimals, are several wooden structures, at least two houses and a parking yard. The wooden structures are filled with thousands of mushroom gardens, while the houses have offices and a processing area and a packaging area.
In a glass shelf hanging on the wall in one of the offices, Abel Kiddu, the owner of this firm displays several bottles of wine, several jars of vaseline and a brownish powder packed in a polythene pouch. All these are products from mushrooms.
“Mushrooms are no longer just soup. We have now added various products from mushrooms including wine, cosmetics and powder, among others,” Kiddu says.
Kiddu was one of the best farmers for 2018. The Best Farmers competition is organised by Vision Group with support from the Embassy of the Netherlands, dfcu Bank, KLM Airlines and Koudijs Nutrition BV. Kiddu learnt mushroom farming from his mother, Joyce Wasswa at Luvuuma zone in Makindye municipality a Kampala suburb in 2015.
When he won in the competition, Kiddu was a fairly small scale, but innovative mushroom farmer. He had one papyrus mushroom house and his main business was making mushroom gardens for sale. Four years later, Kiddu has expanded to adding value to mushrooms and producing an array of products that include wines, skin jelly, powder and sausages. He is also one of the leading mushroom farmer trainers. He has constructed a processing house, complete with wine tanks and packaging materials too.
Visited Netherlands twice
In June 2019, Kiddu visited the Netherlands for the first time, as part of his prize for winning the Best Farmers competition. One of the companies that he met was called CNC Mushroom Exotic Mushrooms. CNC are market leaders in Europe in the mushroom industry. They use bulk sterilisation system, a highly energy-efficient, hygienic production method that delivers top-quality, high-yielding wood substrates.
“We went to their premises and I was awed by the many varieties of mushrooms that they were growing,” he says. Kiddu decided to try growing some of the ‘rare’ varieties that he saw there. He saw brown mushrooms including Shitake, Nameko, Pom Pom Blanc etc.
“I came backand tried to grow them, using the formula that they had showed me, but I was failing at some point,” he says.
So, in 2021 after the world airlines opened up, Kiddu paid for his trip back to the Netherlands.
“I went to further understand the process and now I am ready to introduce these brown, delicious mushrooms to the market,” he says.
Creating 3,000 jobs
After winning the competition and travelling to the Netherlands, he was contacted by several private and public organisations to train youth and create jobs. One of these is the Private Sector Foundation (PSFU) through the Master Card Foundation. “I got a contract to create 3,000 jobs among the youth,” he says. He explains that according to the plan, African Mushroom Growers trains the youth in Kampala and Wakiso districts, and then gives them at least 300 mushroom gardens. ‘With these, a person can earn at least sh300,000 per month,” Kiddu says. Then, Kiddu buys the mushrooms from the farmers and sells it to the market.
“We have already received 1,200 youth and out of these, 800 have been trained and 150 are managing their farms,” he says.
At the farm, Eunice, Kiddu’s wife manages the Master Card Foundation training programme. Eunice has been working with her husband on the farm ever since they started.
“It is satisfying to see young people come here, learn and then start growing mushrooms. The people we train also go out and inspire other people to do what they are doing,” she says.
In addition to the Master Card training, Kiddu is also training other farmers. “Because I learnt through being trained, I am also training others. When I won, I was approached by so many people for training and indeed I have not been selfish,” he says. Kiddu is one of the trainers at the annual Harvest Money Expo organised by Vision Group. However, even without the expo, he receives tens of visitors at the farm.
“I have trained women and youth and many of them are already earning from mushrooms,” he says. One of the beneficiaries from the training was Alana Mukunzi; “A friend introduced me to Kiddu. He took me on a tour of his farm and I was able to start my own farm,” she says.
Additionally, he has also set up another mushroom site in Busabala. The number of people he is employing has grown from less than 10 to over 35.