The modern mushroom growing project (Juncao) heavily funded by government to fight poverty in the country and improve nutrition among households has picked up.
Information from Rwanda Agriculture Development Authority (Rada) indicates that thousands of farmers are now interested in mushroom farming.
Several have booked tubes for planting. The tubes contain substances containing elephant grass, lime powder, urea, rice bread which mushrooms feed on.
“We have a capacity to produce 200,000 tubes but farmers ordered for 450,000. We have to have these tubes by June,” Jeannine Umfuyisoni, head of the mushroom project, (Rada) said.
Government spent Frw120 to purchase the machine and import the technology to start modern mushroom farming. These days a farmer can produce several kilogrammes of mushrooms within less than 10 days.
While the old method of planting in sacks would mean a farmer had to wait for 30 days before the first harvest.
The government initiated the technology after the State Minister in charge of agriculture Daphrose Gahakwa visited China where she borrowed the idea. Several farmers have been trained in mushroom and upland rice growing, with some visiting China for a study tour.
“The project suits Rwanda. The country requires crops that can be planted on small space but with high yield per square metre,” Umfuyisoni said.
She was meaning the hilly nature of the land, battered by soil erosion and suffered loss of nutrients but heavily settled that requires that the population starts intensive farming.
A kilogramme of mushrooms that used to be traded at Frw2,000 in Kigali supermarkets appreciated by Frw1,000. While the price of mushroom tubes has doubled from the previous Frw150—last year.
“It will not only be a solution to poverty, but also a revolution of nutritional needs in the country, children will no longer suffer from kwashiorkor. Their parents can now afford cheap proteins,” she said.
The farm gate price of mushrooms on average is Frw1500, meaning, from each square metre, a farmer can earn Frw67,500—every after 10 days.
Not to miss out on the cash, several cooperatives and local governments are promoting mushroom farming. This is partly because the mushroom market is big and expanding.
“We estimate that 17 tonnes of mushrooms is produced annually, but we have not satisfied the local market,” Umfuyisoni said. She urged the private sector to invest in mushroom industry.
“Our mission is achieved because, we (government) introduced the project and made it known to all Rwandans,” she explained why government is not going to invest in another machine for making tubes— each machines costs Frw20 million.
Should the private sector invest in the production of mushrooms, the government now intends to move into transformation, conservation, and packaging for export.
Where they are grown
The mushrooms are popular in Rubavu district in the Western province, Nyagatare district in the Eastern province, and Musanza district in the Northern Province.
These farmers were trained mostly on how to prepareland, harvest and how to cultivate mushrooms.
Juncao technology was invented in 1980 by professor Lin Zhan Xi. The technology therefore meant limiting the cutting down of trees for mushrooms.
There are 46 varieties of grass that can facilitate mushroom farming. Most of them can be found in Rwanda. They include elephant grass, sunflower straws, and rice straws.
The dry elephant grass is crashed into powder. The powder is then put into the mixing machine, where other constituents are added before packing. 10kgs rice bram (20 per cent), 1kg of lime powder (2 per cent) and 0.1 kg of urea (0.2 per cent) plus 65 litres of water.
The solution is then transferred to the filling machine with a disc-like extension with holes under which white-1kg paper bags are tied for filling.
In one minute, 23 tubes are filled. In one day 2,000 tubes can be produced, working 7 hours.
When The New Times earlier visited the farm, a few meters from the warehouse, is where the process of hot steam sterilisation for mushroom tubers is done, before passing through the inoculation boxes, where mushroom Spores are added.
Next to the inoculation boxes is the house where bags are staged ready to sell to farmers. It is a place where natural sweet mushroom aroma strikes your nose, before your eyes set on the already promising mushroom tubers.
Though mushroom tubers are covered by soil to maintain humidity and moisture, a transparent polythene bag is roofed to preserve it.
From each tube, a farmer could harvest between 400 and 1,000 grammes of mushrooms after less than ten days.
Rwanda is next to South Africa, where Juncao technology has already taken root.