Inside the Mushroom shed
By Emmie Banda, Correspondent/Environmental Journalist
Forest products if well managed can easily alleviate poverty in the country as people of Kacheta Village in traditional authority Zulu in Mchinji, a village surrounded with burnt bricks houses with iron sheet roofs say.
Residents of this village never cut trees to burn their bricks without replacing because they know that their lives rely on the trees.
These people never wanted to use the tress to end poverty as others throughout the country do through charcoal burning which is a number one tool to climate change and an enemy of progress, rather they chose of starting mushroom farming which has changed their daily lives.
Mushroom which is seasonal is usually found during rainy season but many people like it, it is also a non- timber forest product that does not require one to use other natural resources rather already used products like decomposed things.
After learning that mushroom can be produced annually,people of this village start mushroom farming through National Association for Small and Medium Enterprises NASME which has helped them to be where they are today.
One of the farmersa member of Chikumbutso club under Mgulura Mushroom Farmers which comprises of 32 farmers with 28 women and 4 men from 14 villages,Mwatitha Gerald said since she joined the club her life has been changed.
‘’at first I was relying on tobacco farming which requires a lot of labor and trees but since I started mushroom farming things have changed a lot in my life, I can go to my maize farm in the morning and afternoon and still attend my mushroom farm even in the evening since it can be at your own yard , ‘’said Gerald smiling while harvesting her mushroom.
Gerald said since she started this farming she harvests her mushroom every day and it only takes six weeks to start harvesting after cultivation, making her to have money every day after selling to her local customers.
‘’I am managing to send my little child to nursery school, last year I managed to buy fertilizer which I used on my maize farm, am able to buy groceries and whatever I want through mushroom,at first I bought seeds worth six thousand kwacha and I managed to get a profit oftwenty-eight thousand kwacha which I used to buy more mushroom seeds which are sold at six hundred kwacha per bottle at Bunda.
Concurring to what Gerald said, vice chairperson of Chikumbutso club Benjamin Masiye said he has done a lot through mushroom farming which he started in 2003 at Ludzi Mission where they were before starting their own club in their village in 2017.
Masiye said he thought of joining the club after seeing the problems he was facing in his lifeand felt relieved after National Executive Director, Peter William Mwale introduced mushroom farming which he described as soul saver.
“I don’t have problems with mymaize field because I pay the workers and buy fertilizer using the money I raise from my mushroom sales, at first I invested 18 thousand kwacha and I profited 68 thousand kwacha and in my investment I used 30 thousand kwacha and profited close to 100 thousand kwacha,’’said Masiye.
Masiye condemned charcoal burners and sellers saying they are enemies of the environment and he has urged them to be born again and start mushroom farming.
“I can challenge those who are into charcoal business that they are just wasting their time and power as that business needs a lot of energy unlike mushroom farming which only requires maize stocks to be processed, in mushroom farming you have money throughout, and I have seen people who have been into charcoal business but the first time I saw them and this time around they are just the same , but if you can start mushroom farming you can-not be the same in two years’ time, and you will also keep the environment safe,’’ said Masiye smiling.
Sales representative of the club Iphigenia Kamlaza, a lady who has managed to send her four children to secondary school with one selected to continue his education at Salima Technical college, said without mushroom farming which she takes as her hot business, she could have not managed to send her children to school.
“I am grateful that I am a member of Chikumbutso Mushroom Farm, we have our markets in Lilongwe and as of now we are supplying mushroom at Capital Hotel and Paragon in Dedza but the challenge is that there is high competition on the market, you know we are from the outskirt of Mchinji.
“We sell as a club so we wait for our friends from other villages to come with their mushroom and for us to start off to Lilongwe takes time, and when we reach there we find that our friends from Lilongwe have already supplied , so we sometimes come back with our product or sale to the local customers in Lilongwe,’’ said Kamlaza while pleading with the general public to find markets for them.
The club has since asked for other well-wishers to help them with boreholes in their villages as that is also a challenge in managing their mushroom farms.
‘’I am also pleading with Non -governmental organizations to give us training on how we can add value to our mushrooms so that we can be producing different products from mushroom like soup, local markets, as well as finding big markets so that we can be exporting our products which at first were being sold at 300 kwacha per kilogram but this time around is being sold at 2000 kwacha per kilogram,’’ she added.
Senior group Mgulura said he is happy to see thirty families out of three hundred fifty households in his village having something to do that helps them in their everyday lives.
‘’Chikumbutso club is something to be proud of because I know that my people have something to do, I am ready to give them land for an office since my village is their central point where they hold their meetings, and this is a way of showing them how grateful I am, and it is my wish to see every household taking part in this mushroom farming,’’ said the chief.
According to NASME’s National Executive Director William Peter Mwale, the institution trained these farmers how to make mushroom in their farms and now the farmers have started seeing the fruits of their training.
Mwale said mushroom production was introduced in Malawi in 1980’s under the Chitukuko chaMayi M’malawi where women were sent for trainings in China but it did not go on well since mushroom could not compete with tobacco which had big markets and in the 90’s NASME took responsibility of the same but was having the same problems but managed to go on up to now.
“We hope to have bigger markets for our farmers, we had many problems with mushroom farming but now we have seen our farmers progressing, though it is not fast advancing, we hope to see some small and medium farmers progressing into commercial farmers of which we believe will happen in the near future,’’ said Mwale.
He added that sometimes the problems is that banks interest rates is high comparing to the profits which these farmers get so if banks can think of that the better.
“Uncertainty of domestic markets is also a big problem and imported products are also cheap than locally made products which see us having problems on markets.’’he added.
Mwale said he wishes to see more Malawians producing and exporting mushroom.
Among others mushroom is used to make mushroom soup and mushroom flowers.
All in all, everyone knows that our country needs trees and forests so in- order to save trees, people must make use of non- timber forest products which are honey, fruits, and mushroom among others, which can as well be produced at home, afforestation, sustainable woodlots and efficient use of trees and forest.
Let us join people of Mgulura village in mushroom farming and enjoy the benefits, remember charcoal has never ended poverty and it will never end poverty but in mushroom farming we can alleviate poverty in our country.