By Joshua Kato
“Mushrooms are no longer just soup. We have now added various products from mushrooms, including wine, cosmetics and powder,” Abel Kiddu says.
Kiddu produces mushrooms in Makindye, west of Kampala city. He was one of Uganda’s Best Farmers for 2018. Although the value of mushroom growing in Uganda is not clearly documented, the number of people growing it is visibly going up.
“When I visited the Netherlands in 2018, I realised that our practices were still poor. It is while there that I learnt how to add value to the mushrooms, to not only improve their shelf-life, but also earn more,” he says.
Kiddu`s African Mushroom Growers Farm can rightly be called a ‘mushroom factory’. The farm is divided into several operations that include the cotton seed storage facility, the mushroom seed preparation area, the mushroom growing area and the value addition area. The farm employs 30 workers.
“When I won, I had a small enterprise with just one mushroom house. I have since expanded to three big operations, including value addition,” Kiddu says. Kiddu produces mushroom wine, mushroom herbal Vaseline, mushroom powder and dried mushrooms.
“We are now working with the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) to start processing sausages from mushrooms,” he says.
A health food
The population, especially after the onset of COVID-19, is looking for affordable yet healthy foods that can easily be incorporated in one’s diet.
In developing countries like Uganda, health-conscious consumers are moving away from red meat to other alternatives. This is because they desire to reduce the animal foods within the human diet. This can be achieved by avoiding animal products (vegan), avoiding meat products (vegetarian), or reducing the amount of meat products in the diet (flexitarian). This latter approach is suitable for those who want to adopt a healthier and more sustainable diet, but still want to consume meat in moderate quantities. This is when a product like mushrooms comes in.
According to nutritionists, edible mushrooms are considered to be healthy food because they contain high levels of quality proteins, dietary fibres, vitamins and minerals. They also contain relatively low amounts of fat and digestible carbohydrates, which when paired with other foods, improve the nutritional profile of one’s diet.
Nutritionists further point out that some mushrooms have also been reported to contain properties with therapeutic effects. For instance, polysaccharide protein complexes and lectins have been reported to have immunomodulatory and antitumor activities, hypotensive effects and anti-angiogenesis effects.
There is, therefore, growing interest in incorporating mushrooms into muscle foods in an effort to reduce the proportion of meat present. One of the advantages of using mushrooms for this purpose is that they have good compatibility with meat products because of their flavour and fibrous meat-like texture.
How to make a garden
Kiddu says you need cotton husks to make gardens. A bag of 40kg costs sh20,000. These can be ordered for from cotton ginneries in areas like Lira and parts of Teso.
You need to soak the cotton in water for about an hour then you drain it to a level of just being moist before packing it into polythene bags so that you boil the bags all together and kill the germs that could be on them. It is necessary to soak and cook up to the highest temperature in order to kill germs.
Pack this cotton husks in polythene bags before cooking it. After packing, place it in a metallic drum. But put pieces of wood at the bottom to prevent water from logging into your cotton because it affects its quality, the ‘garden’ and harvest as well.
It is advisable to cook in the evening and you for about three hours and then you let it cool slowly throughout the night. Whenever you are going to touch the ‘gardens,’ you have to wash your hands with a solution with bleach to kill all germs.
After cooling you put it in a clean, dry and cold place for 1-2 days before you put on the mushroom seeds (spawn), after which it will take about 30 days to be ready to produce mushrooms.
“For farmers buying already-made gardens, it is advisable to buy them at 27 days. This is when they are starting to produce mushrooms. This means that you will cater for them for only three days before they produce mushrooms,” Kiddu says.
Make sure that your growing room does not have direct sunshine. A lot of light can cause certain mushroom caps to turn dark brown. You would need to ensure you have a cool and dark surrounding for it to grow successfully.
You also need to spray the ‘gardens’ with water daily to help them grow. Constant humidity is necessary for the mushrooms to develop and grow. Each spawn needs just about half a litre of water daily, delivered in the morning and evening. If you live in a dry environment, say above 38 degrees, you may need to spray more often. Mushrooms need a lot of air to prevent carbon dioxide build up. Too much carbon dioxide will make your mushroom production stop, so don’t try and grow mushrooms in a small closet or an enclosed space. Leave the mushroom house open with air passing through.
After 30 days, the gardens will start producing mushrooms. When the veil that attaches the cap to the stem begins to tear, it’s time to harvest.
Depending on your mushrooms, it may be when the mushrooms are the size of an orange. Turn the block daily to check for harvestable mushrooms that may be hiding. Gently twist and pull mushrooms from the garden. Partial stems left on the block will rot, so do not cut them.
Protect your mushrooms from insects by spraying the flaps of the growing box with cooking oil spray. The oil will trap and kill the insects before they reach your mushrooms. This is done as soon as the mushroom start coming out.