- Maurice Ikonya farms and sells the produce to top hotels and supermarkets, earning handsomely as trade spreads among the youth
- Inside the mud-walled structure, Ikonya grows the mushrooms in plastic bags. Some of them are neatly arranged on the floor and others on wooden shelves he has erected.
- He adds value on the produce by making ‘star fry’, a delicacy made from eight different vegetables and mushrooms
- Duncan Gatawa, who also farms mushrooms, says through the association, new farmers are able to get the help they need for their agribusinesses to take off.
Beautiful white mushrooms packed in purple punnets sit pretty on the shelves of Naivas supermarket, Westlands branch, in Nairobi.
The mushrooms are appealing to the eye and they look appetising, certainly why they have found space on the shelves of the giant retail outlet.
The products are the handiwork of Maurice Ikonya and tens of other young farmers, who supply them through their association to the retail chain.
The supermarket is one of the main customers of the Mushroom Growers Association of Kenya, of which Ikonya is the vice-chairman.
“We get 250-300kg of mushrooms every week from our 100 members in 23 counties and distribute them to supermarkets and hotels where we are listed as suppliers,” he says.
When the Seeds of Gold meets Ikonya, 28, he is at the supermarket delivering the day’s order.
“I have to finish this work and return to the farm,” he says as he hands the package and waits for the order to be assessed. “Each one of us farms individually but we sell the bulk of our produce as a group.”
Soon, we leave for his mushroom farm in Kangemi, Nairobi, where he has erected a 10-by-15-foot semi-permanent house on a part of an eighth of an acre.
The structure hosts some 300 plastic bags with 645-665 mushroom plants that are at various stages of growth.
“Some are ready for harvest. I plant them at different times so that I harvest continuously,” says Ikonya.
Inside the mud-walled structure, Ikonya grows the mushrooms in plastic bags. Some of them are neatly arranged on the floor and others on wooden shelves he has erected.
“I started the business over a year ago with Sh150,000 from my savings,” says Ikonya, who holds a Diploma in Project Management from the Kenya Institute of Management Studies.
“The money was enough to purchase 50 bales of wheat straw, cotton seed cake, molasses, urea and chicken manure to make the substrate on which the mushrooms grow.”
LEFT TO COMPOST FOR ONE MONTH
He also used part of the money to establish the mushroom house, which he says should be well-aerated with moderate light.
“Mushrooms generally require a dark room since they mature faster in darkness, and can sprout anywhere as long as the conditions are favourable,” says Ikonya, who grows the button variety and trained in mushroom production at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
He sources the mushroom seeds (spawn) from South Africa, noting obtaining them locally is a challenge. It costs him Sh11,000 to import 10 kilos of spawn.
Before planting the spawn, the growing media must be left to compost for one month as it is turned and watered.
“The compost is usually hot. It kills bacteria and mites that could be a source of diseases. The mixture must then be cooled to about 25 degrees Celsius before the spawn is planted. I then add virgin forest soil that I purchase from Kereita Nyandarua County for better results,” he offers.