In Summary
  • Mushroom takes two months to mature, after which if well tendered, the crop is harvested every day for two months before one plants again, writes Derrick Wandera.

When Rogers Ssekubunga dropped out of Senior Six due to lack of school fees, life was not easy, so he decided to pick up an idea of learning how to grow mushrooms.
Today, Ssekubunga, 25, is counting fortunes from teaching people how to grow mushrooms at his training centre.
He says it takes someone an average of three to four days to master the art of cultivating the crop. “I have taught many people. The hardest question for me to answer is knowing the exact number of people who have gone through my hands. In a good month, I teach up to 200 students and these have been my main advertisers,” Ssekubunga says.

He says teaching how to grow mushrooms is three times more rewarding than growing and selling the crop. “With teaching you will not go wrong because those interested in learning the skill are readily available. But with selling and growing mushrooms, you have the whole uphill task of looking for market and if you do not get it, you are headed for a loss,” Ssekubunga says.

How he got into the business
In 2011, Ssekubunga wanted to have a skill that would sustain him in life.
He was lucky that year, because a Chinese company – Hun Hi, offered to train several youth in Nakaseke District the best practices of mushroom farming. With others, Ssekubunga enrolled for the year-long course. Unlike his usual students who would take at least a week, he spent a year concentrating on details of the business, which he says was worthwhile.

“I learned many things that most of my students may not be patient enough to learn about. I learned the basics in one week but delving into the venture would have never taken me that short time because it is relatively very wide,” he says, adding that the first step of learning is how to make the spawn, depending on what someone’s choice is. They then take you through making the gardens before the last stage of planting and maintaining the main garden of mushrooms. He adds that when it comes to learning the details of the business, “one needs to master how to deal with the diseases and how to control them, market research and how to maintain a good product for a long time.”

Benefits
“I have earned fortunes, some of which I cannot open up to the media for security purposes. I am currently running another farm which was birthed from the mushroom business. I own at least three plots of land in Nakaseke. I feel I am in the right business,” he says. At his school and training ground in Makindye Division in Kampala, Ssekubunga employs about eight young men and women who he pays between Shs200,000 and Shs300,000 depending on their role.
Ssekubunga says he gets a class of about 12 new entrants per day and he charges Shs50,000 per class.
This means that he earns between Shs2.5m to Shs3m per week and about Shs12m per month.

He doubles his trainings with selling of gardens which go for Shs3,000 each.
“After training these students, they want to practice what they have learned, I have also made some gardens which they can take for demonstrations. So you get many people, some of whom are not your trainees asking for many gardens a day and with that, you earn more. My demonstrations farms also give me some little money but for me I have decided to concentrate on training,” he says. Patrick Mpanga, a senior trainer and one of the pioneers of mushroom growing, says organic mushroom farming has been practised for decades, as early as 1992.

Steps of growing mushrooms
A mushroom farming business can rake in big profits in only weeks of establishment. Starting your own business growing oyster mushrooms for profit is fairly easy. In fact, here is how to get started.

With your Agha culture which is the mother seed (spawn), one needs to get the spawn that is used in the garden.
You boil millet grains, dry them completely and mix with calcium sulphate or calcium carbonate to eliminate any remaining moisture, pack the millet grains into dry bottles, drop small pieces of Agha culture into the bottles and cover with cotton wool.

The bottles are then steamed under intense heat to do away with any moisture that might lead to the fermentation of the millet grain.
The bottles are cooled and placed in a well disinfected room and after two weeks, they will start to colonise and the spawn will be ready.

Connie Rutabingwa, an instructor and grower of mushrooms advises that while disinfecting the place, it is preferable that you use either Jik or mentholated spirit.
When you have the spawn, you are good to plant the crop now – the real mushroom.

For making the gardens, you now need coffee husks instead of millet grains. After the same process the millet goes through, it is better to pack them in buveera (plastic bags), preferably the white ones such that in case of any infections in the garden, it is early and quickly noticed.
Drop small pieces of spawn into the gardens and fasten the ends of every kaveera with a rubber band and steam the garden for four hours and then cool it.

Disinfect a clean room and place the gardens for about a fortnight for colonisation to take place after which, unfasten the ends of the kaveera and transfer the gardens to another room for watering. After two days, the mushrooms will begin to sprout and they will be ready for harvest in the next four to five days.

Challenges in teaching mushroom farming
Ssekubunga says the main challenge about his job are the impostors. “They make our work hard, they keep lying to people and yet they do not have the skills required to take on the job. We call upon all those who would like to get into the business to look out for the genuine people around the country,” he says.
On top of the long distances that he has to travel across the country, he also has some people who discourage him because of his age.
“Like any business, challenges are always here for us and we have to always find solutions to them. We are not scared of moving forward,” he says.