Mushroom: Neglected Economic Crop

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At the Faculty of Agriculture Teaching and Research Farm, Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Nkpolu, Port Harcourt in Rivers State lies an emerging and foremost mushroom and spawn production and research centre with the full potentials of catapulting the country into a world class mushroom producer, an internationally acclaimed and recognized money making crop, the mushroom.

Under a tripartite arrangement between the Niger Delta Developemnt Commission, Rivers State University of Science and Technology Port Harcourt and Dilomat Farms and Services Limited in 2003, the Research Centre has been pioneering musroom production in Nigeria.

According to the chairman and chief executive officer of Dilomat Farms, Limited, Chief Moore Chinda in 2003, through research, he was able to scientifically produce the seed (Spawn) which grows the mushroom, a fact which he said prompted him to approach the former vice chancellor of the RSUST, Prof. Simeon Achinewu.

According to him, Prof Achinnewu appointed three other professors to collaborate with him after which his findings where confirmed which resulted to a space allocated to him at the University’s research farm premises.

“In 2003, we were able to get a break through in research activities and where able to discover what we call tissue culture” he beamed.

Chief Chinda who spoke with The Tide in an exclusive interview in his office in Port Harcourt, recently said his research on mushroom production was informed with a  vision for national development and expressed the view that as an initiative from a Rivers State citizen, it was imperative for the state government to take the lead in mushroom production in Nigeria.

“The research on mushrooms in this country was embarked upon with a vision for national development and it is critical for Rivers State to pioneer mushroom development in this country, particularly in view of the nations’ march to the haven of Vision 202020.”

He explained that mushroom production does not require large acres of land as compared to other food and cash crops given the limited availability of arable land for the nation’s agricultural activities.

“In fact, considering our limited land mass for agricultural activities, mushroom production can be considered a sine qua non for a sustainable agricultural policy for Rivers State because in terms of the yield for any given space of land, there is no agricultural product to compare with mushrooms all over the world,” he said.

According to the Dilomat Farms boss, now that women empowerment was taking centre stage in terms of representation for them in the country, it was imperative that women be encouraged now to go into mushrooms production because of its emphasis on scientific methods as opposed to the crude methods of conventional farming among the women.

“The case for women empowerment is even more critical at this point in time when emphasis for greater representation for women is gaining momentum in the country.

“Mushroom production can be considered a veritable vehicle for women empowerment in the field of agriculture because of its scientific and refined nature and appeal, purged of the drudgery of our present conventional agricultural systems with hoes, machetes etc, he counseled.

Chief Chinda further explained that in mushroom production, job opportunities abound for all classes of people in the society including the reduction of poverty and youth restiveness and better health for the nation.

He emphasized that mushroom production could reduce the nation’s unemployment rate, improve agricultural output as well as boost the industrial development of the nation.

“The benefits of mushroom production include immense job opportunities for all classes of people in the society, amelioration of poverty and youth restiveness, better health for society, minimal gestation period of one week, improved workforce for the nation, better foreign exchange earnings for the nation, boost industrial development of the nation and minimal expenditure on waste disposal and environmental management.”

According to the mushroom expert farmer, virtually all the inputs for this venture of conversion of waste to wealth were locally and readily available agricultural and other waste products which serves as a better option for fertiliser for crops.

He said that research opportunities for universities and other institutions especially on tropical mushrooms was yet another benefit from the emerging mushroom industry in the country.

Chief Chinda advocated for the culture of mushroom consumption in the society as according to him, mushrooms does not only serve as source of food but medicinal in nature, especially for practitioners of vegetarianism.

“By installing a mushroom consumption culture in the diets of the rich and poor, the state would have taken an important step in the march to preventive rather than curative health care, especially in the realms of cancer, hypertension, obesity etc, in line with the MDG policy of the Federal Government.”

While describing mushroom production as the most versatile and prolific agricultural venture in the world, he expressed the fear that the main impediment to its mass production was the unavailability of a reliable source of spawn (seed).

According to chief Chinda, China came into limelight as a world producer of mushrooms through the introduction of what has come to be known today as the House hold Responsibility System (HRS) reforms in China.

“China now produces 8 million metric tons of mushrooms valued over 40 billion US dollars employing over 30 million people, a dramatic upsurge from the 60,000 metric tons before the reforms of 1978.”

He also revealed that Pennysylvania, regarded as the leading producer of mushrooms in the world employed over 10,000 people in 1975 who produced mushroom valued at 63.8 million US Dollars, adding that  as at now, total world production of mushroom in 1997 amounted to 7 million metric tons which was valued over 30 billion US Dollars, and a phenomenal rise from 350 metric tons in 1965 and that the upward trend was still on the increase.

“In 1975, Pennysylvania the mushroom capital of the world gave employment to over 10,000 people producing mushroom valued at 63.8 million US Dallars,” he further revealed. Chief Chinda said so far, patronage and interest was low despite the recent passing out of some trainees sponsored by the Rivers State Government under the auspices of the Ministry of Women Affairs.

Chief Chinda further called on people from all works of life to embrace mushroom training which he said was for just few weeks.

He especially called on companies to avail themselves of the moderate amounts needed for training by encouraging and sponsoring indigenes of their  host communities in mushroom cultivation training to enable them establish their own farms in the future.

This he said would go a long way in curbing youth restiveness in the rural communities.

“When you talk about the restive youths, this is a very good vehicle to be able to tackle the problem of youth restiveness,” he said.

He said government should be at the fore front towards the empowerment of the youths because according to him, what was being done in China and elsewhere in the world today was already in Nigeria.

“But we have not got much of assistance from government, if government fulfills most of their promises, what is being done in China or any of this countries, we already have the technology, we have the secret.

“If government believes passionately about mushroom we will be able to produce other products like mushroom milk, tablets and all other products which we import needlessly and of poor quality.”

Without over beating the issue about the importance of mushroom to the growth of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, it is clear that mushroom business is big business.

Few individuals cannot do it alone. Its important to broaden the field so that like the pyramid the mushroom industry would grow, for according to Chief Chinda, “if government gets involved we may even call it gold one day,” he enthused.