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Mushrooms: a source of wealth in rural Tanzania

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Mar 20 2008, Tanzania [TZ], Livelihood opportunities

Local journalist, Osoro Nyawangah, describes how a low-cost, small-scale project to grow mushrooms and sell them to hotels is generating vast profits for a women’s group in Magu, a remote district by Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

Mushrooms are increasingly on demand, costing between 2,000 and 6,000 Tanzanian shillings a kilo. In fact, the demand is so high that we can hardly satisfy all of our esteemed customers’ requirements”, says Loyce Bundala, Chairperson of the Isandula Women’s group based in Isandula village, Magu District, Tanzania.

Like many other groups that are engaged in productive activities in peasant communities, the Isandula Women’s Group was established way back in 1998 by ten founding members who have long been involved in a range of income-generating activities, including mushroom-farming.

Small-scale projects to escape poverty

Due to the extraordinarily difficult financial hardships faced by rural communities, particularly women living in rural and remote areas, there has been a great deal of enthusiasm for setting up productive groups geared towards setting up small–scale projects that aim to alleviate poverty. Some of these projects include agriculture, dairy cattle husbandry, goat–rearing, poultry farming, keeping exotic and indigenous chickens, gardening, setting up kiosks and credit enterprises and running cooperative societies.

The pitfalls

Nevertheless, many of the women’s groups established in the rural areas have to contend with a myriad of long-term problems such as a lack of adequate starting capital, a lack of financial management skills, the inability of many of their members to keep accounts; all of which often results in the groups disintegrating before they have achieved any of the goals for which they were originally established.

Despite tireless efforts made by each of the respective groups to show that their respective project has had a beneficial impact of its members, the truth is that in most cases it has yet to live up to the members’ high expectations.

The risks

Since the projects themselves constitute major sources of income that are necessary to  maintain many rural–based families, a significant number of people have continued to set up these projects each year without any regard for the (potentially disastrous) consequences, such as going bankrupt or ending up living in abject poverty.

The rewards

This phenomenon has, in turn, given rise to an awkward situation in which the groups have always gone up and down, resulting in the emergence of new groups which believe that they will fare a lot better than their predecessors. It is indeed on this basis that the Isandula Women’s Group came into being just three years ago with the idea of breeding mushrooms; a project which has registered encouraging results for other small peasants to emulate.

When this reporter visited the project’s site recently, among other things, he discovered that mushroom-farming does not necessarily require a heavy investment. Rather, if properly managed, the project can actually rescue the group members from the grinding poverty which is often a day-to-day reality for them within a very short period of time.

“Prior to this project, we were involved in handcraft activities such as pottery and a bit of indigenous poultry-keeping”, says Loyce

who added that the projects not only required a hefty financial investment to get them started but also a market for the products that were made; a market which ultimately did not materialize. She stated that her group almost had a breakthrough when it managed to win a tender, under the HESAWA programme, to  construct water tanks for primary schools in Magu District. However, when the HESAWA contract expired the ‘Water Tanks Project’ was no longer viable as the tanks were not on-demand.

Cromabu officeThe Crop Marketing Bureau (Cromabu) as the lynchpin

According to Loyce, the Isandula Women Group managed to set up the mushroom-farming project with a starting capital of just 1,000 Tanzanian shillings. Then, in 2003, the Mwanza- based Ukiliguru Agricultural Research Institute granted them technical assistance. The project began delivering positive results in only three months time. Throughout this period, it was the CROP MARKETING BUREAU (CROMABU) www.cromabu.com that provided the link between both parties.

When ‘less’ is definitely ‘more’…

Speaking about the project’s successes, Pili Abdalla - one of the group members – stated that, with just 1,000 Tanzanian shillings as the start-up capital, they have been able to harvest 23 kilos of mushrooms worth 46,000 Tanzanian shillings within the space of just three months. The produce was sold at tourist hotels based in Magu District.

“We could not believe our eyes when we started counting what we had earned, considering that we used less energy and just raw materials which cost us virtually nothing. We are  delighted with this project” said Pili, adding “The only raw materials needed for mushroom-farming are rice husks, groundnut shells and other household and wild organic substances”.

When preparing for the mushroom farm they simply took a few kilos of sugar which was then mixed with other organic substances in order to produce mushroom ‘seedlings’ in a room plunged into complete darkness.

“During the second phase”, said Pili, “the group managed to harvest around 50 kilos of mushrooms which fetched at least 100,000 Tanzanian shillings and thereby helping the mushroom- farming project gain momentum”.

Challenges to the project

The Chairperson of the Women’s Group, Loyce Bundala mentioned the shortage of mushroom ‘seeds’ and the lack of a spacious room as some of the challenges faced by her group because the owner of the room that is currently being used has already served them with a notice ordering them to vacate the room, which places the entire project in a precarious situation. The ‘seeds’ are presently procured from Dar-es- Salaam.

For her part, the Director of CROMABU, Naomi Maselle says that the produce (mushrooms) is in great demand in Mwanza City where it fetches up to 6,000 Tanzanian shillings per kilo. Moreover, besides being rich in proteins, mushrooms provide immunity against a number of  diseases and medical conditions such as High Blood Pressure (BP).

According to CROMABU’s Director, mushrooms provide an alternative protein. Consequently, now that fish from Lake Victoria have become so expensive lately, in the wake of the proliferation of fish-processing plants most people’s diets have become deficient in proteins.

Maselle has urged women living in the rural areas to join together and set up mushroom-farming projects which can turn out to be a guaranteed source of wealth.

Caring for the community

Besides income-generating activities, the Isandula Women’s Group is also involved in a range of community development activities. For example, organizing home-based care services for people who are HIV-positive and providing relief services to kids living in difficult circumstances.

“We collaborate with Magu District Council in implementing various projects related to care services for people who are HIV-positive and orphans”, said the Chairperson of the group,

adding that they have a moral responsibility to ensure that disadvantaged children are able to lead a comfortable life.  

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