Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Lesson in Oyster Mushroom Production: Malawi, Africa

by Laura Kahles

Many of the members that were trained from Naomi Mushroom Farmers.

It has been just over two weeks since I have returned home from another successful trip to Malawi. As the oyster mushroom specialist here at Field & Forest I have been given some wonderful opportunities thanks to CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture) and the Farmer-to-Farmer Program funded by USAID. I also must note the support I have received from Joe and Mary Ellen here at F&FP! How often can one just take off of work to volunteer in Africa? I suppose this rarity is just one of the appeals of working for a mushroom spawn company run by two polish mushroomers with big hearts.

Julia is a long time mushrooms producer that I visited in a nearby village. She has been producing oyster mushrooms on a small scale for over 10 years.

For this most recent trip I was teaching a group of farmers that refers to themselves as the Naomi Mushroom Farmers in Mchinji, Malawi. I formally taught about 38 individuals, but also reached out to many others in nearby villages. This group was already producing oyster mushrooms, but needed to improve production. They were also interested in being introduced to button mushroom production. For this trip, however, the lesson in white buttons was brief. With no source of compost, and some intense heat around the corner we all agreed the focus should remain on oyster mushrooms.

Oyster mushroom bags hang in a traditional mushroom grow house. Contamination is obvious, but oyster mushrooms can still fruit with limits to yield. 

Most of what I saw in Malawi at the various farms I visited were heavily contaminated oyster bags. Inadequate pasteurization combined with overly wet substrate contributes to a majority of the contamination. Other common mistakes included, waiting to put holes in the substrate bags (this allows for fermentation, and weakening of the mycelium), low humidity, and storage of healthy bags with contaminated bags. The great news is that these farmers were willing to make the appropriate changes needed to improve conditions.

While there we planted three different varieties of oyster mushroom: Pink, Pohu, and Grey Dove. All of these are favorites of mine for growing in Malawi due to their fast colonization, and aggressiveness. I worked with these farmers for just under two weeks. Pink was the first oyster we planted, and I am happy to say that when I arrived back into the United States I had received a text message with pictures of pinning pink oyster mushrooms! Seeing these pins brings me great joy. I just wish I had still been in Malawi to share the excitement with the farmers. Maybe next time :)

The fruits of our labor growing on maize stalks (straw is not available).