Mushroom cultivation identified as an agricultural sector
Mushroom farming, often shunned by many established and aspiring farmers, has been identified as an agricultural sector that has the potential to drive equitable and inclusive growth, while boosting South Africa’s economic recovery plan.
According to the South African Farmer’s Association, South Africa produces around 21,000 tons of mushrooms a year, and these are exported mainly to neighboring countries, including Namibia and Mauritius.
However, the mushroom industry does not have many players as most people, including farmers, are reluctant to venture into mushroom cultivation due to a lack of market access information. .
In an effort to encourage farmers and small businesses to venture into the market, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) has held a masterclass webinar on growing mushrooms as a business model.
The webinar, held on Tuesday, aimed to educate the public about mushroom farming and outline the processes involved in starting a mushroom farming business.
the general manager of Tropical Mushrooms, Peter Nyathi; Managing Director and Owner of Mushroom Guru, Craig Fourie, and Private Consultant, Dr. Susan Koch, led the webinar and shared their own journey into the mushroom market and the economic opportunities available in the industry, and encouraged the public to consider mushroom cultivation as a business. model.
Nyathi, whose tropical mushroom farm, located in Magalies and has been in operation for 22 years, admitted that the level of entry (capital expenditure) and technical knowledge are a major limiting factor.
“Unlike abroad, here we have to be skilled in making our own growing medium and you also have to have the knowledge to grow mushrooms.
“It also requires that you have enough capital to build the two separate entities [manufacturing and agriculture]and this creates a barrier to entry for many people.
“Overseas they have big companies making the growing medium and everyone would buy from them and grow mushrooms. It’s a bit easier and very efficient, in terms of the quality of your growing medium, because they [invest] a lot of money [in it].
“[In South Africa]individually we don’t have enough capital and the industry has a lot of instability in terms of consistency of production, because of that,” Nyathi said.
However, Nyathi thinks that can be changed.
“It takes someone, somewhere, to have capital to be able to break it (sic).”
Nyathi said that the market itself is quite open except when you have to participate in the supermarket chain, where you have to have the necessary quality, which is mandatory because it must meet the quality standard for food.
Open the market
With funding from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Land Reform (DALRRD), in 2005, Nyathi was able to open an employee trust, funded by a land redistribution grant from the Department of Agriculture to agricultural development.
Eligible employees received their grants and the trust received an 18% equity stake in the business. In 2013, Nyathi applied for another grant and increased participation to 35%.
Nyathi has also received financial support from one of the major banking institutions in the country.
“It’s something that I personally feel very happy about, that you’re working and doing something with people that you work with, because our staff is around 175, and one person can’t take [it all].
“For me, it’s part of my contribution to society that if possible, you involve as many people as possible…to improve their business knowledge,” Nyathi said.
Fourie advised anyone wanting to get into mushroom farming to decide which mushrooms they plan to grow – whether exotic or medicinal mushrooms.
Fourie’s company, The Mushroom Guru, runs workshops and trains people to pack their own bags of mushrooms. Since 2014, more than 750 people have been trained in mushroom cultivation and the supply of their own equipment, among other things.
“The idea is to train as many people as possible in mushroom cultivation so that they can ensure food security,” Fourie said.
He said that 28 years ago, when he started his mushroom business, he used his logical skills learned through mechanical engineering, which helped him make various items and machines that he used in industry.
“For people coming into the industry who don’t have the skills, it would be a bit difficult to do some things because not all the machines will be available,” Fourie said.
(With contributions from the South African government press release)