Joshua Kyalimpa | March 2, 2009
From its home on Gayaza Road, approximately 10 kilometers from Kampala, Mulago Positive Women’s Network brings together women who are HIV-positive. Affiliated to the AIDS Support Organization, a group that supports AIDS victims, these women are plotting to push poverty away.
The Mulago Positive Women’s Network, a group of 70 women, developed the idea of mushroom growing as an income generating activity at the AIDS Support Organisation centre in Mulago. Agnes Nyamayalwo, the chairperson of the network, was sick then but still needed money to provide for her family.
One of the members of the network who had attended a workshop on mushroom cultivation conducted by the Uganda Mushroom Growers Association explained to the other women the advantages of mushroom production over other crops.
One advantage is that mushrooms require little land. Another is that mushroom growing is not labour intensive, which is important for HIV-positive women, who, due to their illness, are not as strong.
The only investment was the time and resources needed to collect organic matter such as sawdust and coffee husks, which were freely provided by carpentry workshops and coffee industries.
These materials are soaked in boiled water and put in polythene bags pricked with holes to release moisture. The mushroom seeds are then planted in the bags.
Agnes Nyamayalwo,says their ambition is to fill the virgin mushroom market. Demand for mushrooms is high because there are very few growers.
A kilogram of oyster mushroom, the type grown by the Mulago Positive Women’s Network, costs about 6,500 Uganda shillings (about 3 US dollars or 2,6 Euros) in local markets.
“Our production is still low and our target is to at least double the supply if we get some support to put up more mushroom houses,” says Nyamayalwo.
Their grass-thatched mushroom houses, built using mud and wattle, will hopefully allow the group to target the international market. Although demand for Ugandan mushrooms is high in international markets, supply is still low.
Statistics from the Uganda Export Promotion Board indicate that the world demand for fresh or chilled mushrooms was valued at 1.1 billion US dollars in 2006, and has been growing in value by 9% annually since 2002.
Uganda’s mushroom exports are ranked 83rd globally. In 2006, exports were valued at 1,800,000 shillings (about 900 US dollars or 725 Euros).
Diana Mukarugire, the vice chairperson of the network, tells Farm Radio Weekly that they decided to go into mushroom production after realizing that they did not have enough land to venture into other farming activities.
In their last harvest, the women were able to make 10 million shillings (approximately 5555 American dollars or 4000 Euros) on sales of 1538 kilograms of oyster mushrooms.
Individual members contribute money to buy seeds and polythene bags. plus materials to build mushroom houses. At the current price of 6,500 Ugandan Shillings per kilogram of oyster mushrooms, they project earnings of at least one million Ugandan shillings per month.
The mushroom houses have been erected on land provided by one of the members whose husband died of AIDS. Her main house is also being used as a training centre for other HIV-positive women to start mushroom cultivation.
The market is largely driven by health-conscious people who demand organic produce. The Mulago Positive Women’s Network is also encouraging members to plant fruits and vegetables in order to provide balanced nutrition to their families.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on mushroom growing and HIV positive women