Mushrooms in a field. Improved varieties are on the market.

The mushroom business is evolving into a lucrative venture from its erstwhile peripheral and low yielding status. Mr Gerald Kyeyune, an agricultural technologist from Makerere University specialises in producing mushroom seeds for commercialn purposes. He started the project in 1996 but on a small scale.

Back then, he says mushrooms were produced only by scientists from the National Agricultural Research Laboratories Institute in Kawanda. But that did not happen on a regular basis, pushing farmers to visit Makerere University in search for the mushroom seeds.

“Mushroom seed production in Uganda started in Kawanda in 1989 but since the seed quantity produced was inadequate to meet the demand of the farmers, many of them kept coming to Makerere University School of Agricultural Sciences, demanding for these seeds yet no one was producing them,” said Mr Kyeyune.

Being the hands-on person that he is, coupled with his qualification in Agricultural and Industrial Microbiology, he started surfing on the internet to get knowledge on mushroom seed production. He then ventured into producing mush room seeds in 1995.

As it is with most entrepreneurial journeys, he didn’t cover much ground at the start. He began by producing 50 packets in a month, which he sold at Shs300 each. But sometimes he would fail to sell them.

That happened because he laid emphasis on imparting knowledge to agricultural students within the university. In doing this, he failed to advertise the project on the local market.
He says mushroom seeds perish within a period of one month therefore failing to sell them within this period leads to automatic loss.

Going commercial
Seeing that the University administration was slow at buying the idea of including mushroom seed production and cultivation into the university curriculum, Mr Kyeyune had to go commercial by marketing the product throughout the entire country. This he did by exhibiting the seeds in trade shows and participating in training farmers at various field sites in order to produce the seeds for themselves. He also trained them on how to grow mushrooms.

Today, he voluntarily trains University students, equipping them with knowledge about this technology at no cost provided they show interest by purchasing the materials for the training exercise.

“I have now expanded my supply chain because I have been exhibiting at different trade shows and the quality of my seeds is good; free from virus contamination. This has attracted farmers to come and purchase these seeds from my small culture room at the university,” Mr Kyeyune said.

Mr Kyeyune has now graduated from producing 50 small packets of Oyster mushroom species – the most commonly grown by farmers in Uganda to 45,400 packets or more in a year, depending on the purchase orders.

He has started producing button mushroom species which grow mostly under temperate climate conditions and so far he is producing the seeds for farmers in Kenya.
The framers are supplied after placing an order in advance. The seeds are then produced and supplied within a period of one week from the date of placing the order. This helps to avoid decay of the seeds.

Growing market
Mr Kyeyune is now supplying Oyster mushroom seeds to farmers in the districts of Kampala, Kabale, Fort Portal, Wakiso, Entebbe, Iganga, Buikwe, Masaka, Jinja and Kitgum among others
Most farmers place orders of between 10 to 100 packets of seeds depending on the size of their land.

“Mushroom growing is a viable project especially for those who produce it consistently because this will help a farmer expand the marketing strategy and build consistent customer relations. But inconsistence in growing the plant will interrupt the marketing system,” Mr Kyeyune said.
A kilogramme of fresh Oyster mushroom is sold at Shs5,000 while the dry mushrooms fetch more. The Button type is sold at Shs12, 000 per kilogramme.

Mr Kyeyune is currently supplying Oyster seeds at Shs2,000 per gram and the Button seeds go for Shs30,000 per kilogramme because its production cost is higher. Mr Kyeyune imports mother culture seed production material from Belgium and each tube costs Shs500, 000. In a year he purchases three tubes which is capable of producing 45,400 packets of seeds

Production stage
At the production stage, the technician uses a scalp blade for scooping a small piece of mother culture which is introduced in a plate containing growth components. It is then covered with its lead to allow growth.

Within seven days this mixture grows into a whitish substance. Mr Kyeyune cuts a small piece which he introduces to either a millet or sorghum grain contained in a bottle called grain master. It is here that the seed is formed.

The technician then picks a spoon full of the grain mixture and inoculates it polythene bags for the planting spams to grow and within two weeks the spam will be ready for dispatch to the farmer.

For the farmers they use agricultural waste such as cotton husks, coffee seed husks, rice and soya bean husks among others. They mix the seed with the required water content and tie them in polythene bags kept under cool temperature. They are grown indoors for better yields and they are harvested after 3 to 4 weeks.

By Lominda Afedraru, Daily Monitor

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