Nigerians overlooking health benefits, opportunities in mushroom, expert laments

A health expert, Dr. Stella Iwuagwu, has enumerated the health benefits of mushroom, lamenting that Nigerians are overlooking the economic opportunities inherent in mushroom farming, while complaining of unemployment.

Addressing participants Thursday in Abuja during the first National Mushroom Summit Exhibition and Awards organized by the National Mushroom Growers, Processors and Marketers Association, with the theme “harnessing the nation’s non oil commodities through the development of mushroom value chains,” Iwuagwu said that her organic farm, Sustainable Demonstration Farms (SDFarms) in Orozo, Abuja, was founded in 2016, but started mushroom production in 2017.

She said: “The SDFarms was founded in 2016 as a small backyard farm, after my relocation from the US in 2015. We brought a trainer from Fyking International to train our team in mushroom production and we started producing mushroom in 2017, with an output of 10-20kg of fresh mushroom per week. However, there was no existing market, so we did our marketing by approaching friends, neighbours and colleagues.

“We had our first fresh mushroom packs displayed in Dunes supermarket in 2018. With time, the production of our mushrooms rose to over 25kg per week,  but we could only sell about 50% of it.  We experienced post harvest loss due to the perishable nature of mushrooms.

“To curb post harvest loss, we started dehydrating our excess output. We started sun-drying, but it has its shortcomings. So we had to swiftly invest in a locally fabricated dehydrator; in order to maintain hygiene and the health benefits of the mushroom. 

“It was an easy transition from dehydrated to a powdered mushroom, which expands the variety of ways mushroom can be consumed. Processed packaged mushroom has long shelf life  of up to one year and are portable, compared to the fresh ones that can last for only 3 days.”

She added: “There are great opportunities in the mushroom business, including great export potentials. It affords opportunity for consumers with limited storage options to purchase and use mushrooms. Nigerians complain about unemployment, but the mushroom value chain creates job creation and expansion of the economy.

“For instance, packaging materials, dehydrator fabricators, graphic designers, printers, logistics, sales, among others, are needed in packaging and selling mushroom in dehydrated and powdered form. I know how much we spend at SDFarms on packaging materials. We provide direct and indirect employment to many Nigerians, so many people complaining of unemployment should take advantage of the opportunities inherent in mushroom business. 

“Also, in powdered form, mushroom can be added to multitude of products to improve nutritional value, giving customers more options to consume mushrooms. Furthermore, knowledge and skills from mushroom processing can be transferred to other perishable products, so farmers can take advantage of this to provide job opportunities for Nigerians out there. For example, from the lessons learned in processing mushroom, we have been able to powder over 20 fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs that promote health and wellbeing. 

“Nevertheless, we have had our fair share of challenges in producing mushrooms for the Nigerian market. For instance, as a result of our inadequate knowledge and technical skills, we have been spending a lot on experts in different areas. Also, stainless steel equipment and food grade implements used in mushroom production are very expensive. Furthermore, there is the issue of epileptic and inconsistent power supply in Nigeria that is forcing us to rely on generating our own power, which is expensive and making cost of production high.

“Also, packaging materials are very expensive. Because they are imported, they tend to vary with inconsistent foreign exchange. NAFDAC registration and certification processes are very cumbersome, expensive and time frame long and uncertain. In fact, out of our 21 health products at SD Farms, we have only succeeded in getting NAFDAC to certify 7. However, 11 more have undergone laboratory analysis.

“Furthermore, consumer knowledge about mushroom is still very limited, so we spend a lot of time and resources on marketing. Fear of poisonous mushroom is still a challenge among some consumers and there is limited consumer knowledge on the various ways mushroom can be consumed, warranting aggressive marketing. Mushroom is still relatively expensive for the average Nigerian family, while there is elites’ consumer preference for canned imported species of mushroom.

“Therefore, we solicit increased advocacy of policy makers to create enabling environment for producers, processors and markets for mushrooms.

There should be more didactic and hands-on education and skills transfer across all mushroom value chain. Concerned authorities should provide access to finance; to support the purchase of expensive processing equipment. There should be expanding opportunities to educate the public about mushrooms’ health benefit and varieties of ways to consume mushrooms.

“Furthermore, government should include mushroom in school menu and add to school curriculum from science, nutrition to home economics. Concerned authorities should create mushroom cusine book and mushroom cooking competition sponsored by the association, government and the private sector. Authorities should explore how to reduce competition from imported mushroom and also provide technical and financial support to expand the varieties of mushrooms produced in Nigeria.”