Uganda: Making money with mushrooms (Spore)

| August 8, 2011

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When Ismail Mulindwa finished high school in Uganda’s Mukono district, he knew just what he wanted to do. During school holidays, he had tried growing mushrooms using cotton seed husks. He was convinced it could be a profitable venture. He said, “We are farmers by nature. My parents are farmers, they saw potential in me and encouraged me.”

His instincts paid off. He now heads a thriving enterprise. He earns a good income and provides work for a team of outgrowers.

When Mr. Mulindwa started his enterprise, he bought mushroom spawn from Makerere University and the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute. But he soon realized he would be better off on his own.

Mushroom spawn are like seeds for mushrooms. Determined to produce his own spawn, Mr. Mulindwa enrolled in a microbiology course at Makerere University. To perfect the technique, he signed up for another course at Baraka Agricultural College in Kenya.

Now 25, Mr. Mulindwa has built a spawn laboratory at his farm. He took out a loan from a private company to set up the facility. The cost was 15 million Ugandan shillings (about 5,000 American dollars). He paid back the sum on time, without great difficulty.

Mr. Mulindwa sells fresh and dried mushrooms to individual customers, supermarkets, and hotels. He also supplies spawn to farmers in Kenya and Uganda and the government’s National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). He makes an average monthly profit of 1.5 million Ugandan shillings (about 550 American dollars). If he lands a big contract he can earn much more. He said, “I have the capacity to deliver 2,000 bottles of spawn a month.”

Mr. Mulindwa set up a network of outgrowers to help meet demand. He is even seeking to expand to meet the booming international market. Many of his suppliers are women. They borrow start-up money from microfinance institutions. Part of the attraction is the quick turnaround. Mushrooms can be harvested 20-30 days after planting the first spawn. And the crop is not restricted to seasons.

Namirembe Joanita is one of the outgrowers. She said, “I was scared of getting a loan but whenever I visited Mulindwa’s farm, I got encouraged. With mushrooms you start earning after just three weeks.” She invested one million Ugandan shillings (nearly 400 American dollars) but made the sum back within three months.

Mr. Mulindwa also teaches mushroom cultivation. His goal is to set up a teaching facility. This will allow him to share the knowledge and skills behind his business. He says there is still much untapped potential in the sector. He claims farmers could make even better profits if they used quality packaging and branding. The young mushroom producer says that owning a farm has taught him the value of hard work. But the results are well worth the investment. He said, “I sweat for my profit, but I benefit from it. I enjoy being my own boss.”