Growing Mushrooms for Life

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Now that she knows about the nitty-gritty of mushroom farming, finances permitting, Maria Engelbrecht wants to join the lucrative industry. Mushrooms, which are edible fungi, are sought-after delicacies, which apart from providing proteins for body building also have healing properties. Some actually say mushrooms come in handy especially when there is no meat. A local fruit and vegetable shop sells a packet of oyster mushrooms for N$10.99. All oyster mushrooms are bought from local suppliers while white mushrooms are supplied by businesses from the Cape. All along, she saw mushrooms being sold in supermarkets and she knew very little about where they came from and how they are grown. But one day a friend she met in town was to lead her to the mystery of mushroom growing. It even became more special when the type of farming she was introduced to was done in plastic bags for that matter. Out of curiosity, she decided to enroll in a mushroom growing course at the Khomas Women in Development Centre (KWID) in the heart of Katutura earlier this year in February. Had it not been for the friend who had told her about the course, Engelbrecht would never have discovered her newly acquired knowledge, which she intends to pursue further, of course funds permitting. It is also that she was the hardest working in a group of around 23 women that were trained to grow mushrooms for an income and also for consumption. A mushroom scientist at the University of Namibia, Nailoke Kadhilu-Muandingi, says oyster mushroom farming is a viable project that can free many women from the shackles of poverty. Although it needs some attention, it is not like gardening that requires weeding and applying some manure. Among the things that one can treasure about growing the edible fungus are that it does not require a lot of space and it can be harvested more than eight times just from one plastic bag, that is once every week. Due to its quick maturing period, it enables quick investment returns and it can also be grown in substrates that are readily available such as agricultural crop residue, forestry biomass and grass straw, among many others. A normal cluster that can be harvested from the first day of germination to the fifth day is about 400 – 600 grams. The Katutura community is among a number of communities that have been introduced to mushroom farming. Others are in Henties Bay and Ondangwa, with Ondangwa women doing so well that they are now preparing to exhibit their products at the Ongwediva Trade Fair later in August. If everything goes according to plan, a training course will be offered to people in Gobabis. Engelbrecht’s harvest some two weeks ago was a record one as the weight from one cluster passed the normal – which is 600 grams. One of the cluster’s weight was 874 grams. She now wants to proceed with the project but all this will depend on whether she gets money to continue with the project. “I want to see how far I can go. I do not only want to succeed but also to teach other rural women to grow mushrooms to feed their families and sell,” she added. KWID is also excited that the centre is associated with the development, which holds tremendous potential to help women out of their financial problems. All in all the project, which is supported by Nedbank and run by UNAM, has trained close to 50 women at the centre, with the second group being said to have been the most successful. KWID director Alwina Awases told New Era that due to the success that has been recorded by the second group, of which about four showed commitment, the centre would dedicate some staff to work more closely with the participants. “Now that we know it works, we will encourage others to follow suit,” said Awases, adding that women could earn a living from them. During a mushroom growing training workshop some time back, the then Minter of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Helmut Angula said: “I see Africa gradually rising to become a major contributor in the world of mushroom production, given the continent’s rich mushroom biodiversity, her huge tonnage of lignocellulistic biomass and her wide range of climatic types, which enable the cultivation of both tropical and cool temperature climate mushroom species.” Mushrooms contain natural products that are anti-tumour, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial, which can boost the body’s immuno-response systems, normalise blood pressure, lower the body’s cholesterol level and promote general body fitness.