Role of women in mushroom growing in Uganda: The case of the Mushroom Training and Resource Centre, South West Uganda
1P. Ipulet, 2P. Byandusa, 3P.K.Malakar*
*Corresponding author: email: email@example.com
1.Department of Plant Sciences, Microbiology and Biotechnology, College of Natural Sciences, Makerere University, PO Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda.
2.Mushroom Training and Resource Centre, PO Box 802, Kabale, Uganda
3.Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UA, United Kingdom
Uganda is blessed with a mild tropical climate and optimum temperatures for growing major varieties of mushroom. Traditionally, people collect wild mushrooms from forests or around termite mounds, and in the last two decades, women have taken up mushroom farming to meet the growing demand for food security and to generate family incomes.
The oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is the predominant mushroom species grown on a commercial basis in Uganda as the substrates required for mushroom growth are readily available through the farming activities in the country. Additionally, the technical requirements for growing this mushroom are achievable and technical support is available.
The Mushroom Training and Resource Centre (MTRC) is based in Kabale in South West Uganda. MTRC is a community-based organization and targets women and youth as the major beneficiaries of mushroom farming, while also promoting the involvement of men as a family enterprise. Every member of the family enterprise contributes to decision-making in mushroom farming, thereby maximizing utilization of scarce family resources. Mushroom growing relies on labour from within the family, and women play an important role in inoculating the bags, harvesting and drying the mushrooms.
Mushroom cultivation, especially the supply of good quality mushroom spawn, needs to be promoted on a national scale to ensure food security and improve social economic standards of vulnerable communities in Uganda.
The AgriTT Research Challenge Fund was launched in April 2013. Trilateral research teams from China, the UK and a developing country in Africa or Asia, were invited to apply for grants to take agricultural technology innovation originating in China and developing and adapting this technology in a developing country context. An added requirement was consideration of the whole value chain from the field to the consumer.
AgriTT project 1579, led by Dr Pradeep Malakar from the Institute of Food Research (IFR), Norwich, United Kingdom, was awarded a grant to improve mushroom production in Uganda (1) with technical assistance on mushroom spawn production from the Institute of Edible Fungi, Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Science (SAAS) and technical assistance on the implementation of agricultural extension services to subsistence type agriculture by Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Science (GAAS). The Mushroom Training and Resource Centre (MTRC) based in Kabale in South West Uganda was chosen as a partner in the project as MTRC had already formed a core network of farmers, and the supply chain of mushroom in this region was well established.
One of the overriding goals of AgriTT project 1579 was to empower and consolidate the role of women in mushroom production in Uganda in order to improve their own quality of life and that of their families and communities. Agriculture is a vital sector in Uganda and the government’s vision for this sector is to transform subsistence type farming to commercial agriculture through improved productivity and production as well as market access. However, attempts at commercial mushroom production in Uganda have so far been unsuccessful and the infrastructure for this sector of agriculture is still under development. Mushroom farming in Uganda, in terms of scale, is still a subsistence type farming activity even though the mushrooms produced are sold in order to improve household income and not used wholly to feed household members. Access to good quality mushroom spawn remains the bottleneck in this farming activity.
The climate of Uganda is mildly tropical and temperatures range from 17 - 30 oC with the northern regions generally warmer and drier than the southern regions. There are highlands in the east, west and southwest, and these areas most suitable for mushroom cultivation. Traditionally, people pick mushrooms in forests, grasslands and woodlands including around termite mounds where conditions favour their growth. Mushrooms are still considered a delicacy because of their scarcity and unique flavor. Increasingly, farmers in Uganda have taken to growing mushrooms in order to meet increasing demand as more consumers discover their nutritive and medicinal values, which include easy digestibility and an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Oyster mushrooms are the most commonly grown mushroom species due to the relative ease of cultivation (2).
In Uganda the perception of mushroom growing as a profitable enterprise is commonplace, as mushroom production requires an initial low capital investment, small land requirement, and requires no input of fertilizers and is therefore considered environmentally friendly. Mushrooms can be grown indoors in a simple enclosed structure and potential mushroom growth substrates in Uganda include all major crop residues of cereals and legumes, corncobs, tree leaves, sawdust, coffee hulls, banana leaves, sugar cane bagasse, cotton waste, cotton seed hulls, brewers waste, papyrus reeds and elephant grass.
Efforts in improving mushroom spawn production at MTRC during the lifetime of AgriTT project 1579 has contributed to increasing numbers of farmers improving their productivity through targeted training at MTRC and access to good quality mushroom spawn. Additionally, MTRC contributed to the completion of a mushroom cultivation training facility on the grounds of Makerere University Botanical Gardens. The mushroom training facility was officially opened on 6th November by Dr Martin Kaonga, Director of Science and Conservation at A Rocha International, an international Christian conservation organization. This facility will serve as a laboratory where university students will be able to carry out experiments in mushroom cultivation as part of their university practical coursework.
Figure 1: Opening of the Makerere Mushroom Training facility at Makerere University on 6th November 2015. The facility was opened by Dr Martin Kaonga (right). On the left is Dr Perpetua Ipulet, course coordinator of the Mushroom Biology course and Dr Pradeep Malakar
Since 2007, over 10,000 famers have been introduced to mushroom cultivation by MTRC of which 22% were male and 78% female. Therefore, mushroom growing contributes significantly to the women’s economic status while achieving lasting improvement for family and community well-being.
2. OVERVIEW OF MUSHROOM CULTIVATION IN UGANDA FROM A GENDER PERSPECTIVE
In Uganda, 80% of the population depends on agricultural production for their livelihood, either at subsistence level or limited commercial farming,. Nationwide, agriculture is the main occupation of women. Seventy-two per cent of all employed women work in agriculture; in rural areas, 90% of all women are engaged in this sector compared with 53% of men (3).
2.1 Current situation of mushroom industry based on scale of production
The actual number of mushroom growers in Uganda is not known since no reliable census has been undertaken. However, there are several good oyster mushroom spawn production facilities that also offer mushroom training and marketing advice including the MTRC, Kawanda Agricultural Research Station (KARI) and Makerere University.
A Ugandan project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Business Services Market Development (BSMD) initiative from 2002-2005 (4), estimated that Ugandan mushroom production in 2003 amounted to between 100-200 tonnes. A recent market study conducted under the AgriTT project 1579 estimated that mushroom production in 2015 had only improved to between 400-600 tonnes. Thus, despite various initiatives by several donors, mushroom production in Uganda during the last decade has increased by less than an order of magnitude. Comparatively, China produces in excess of 25.7 million metric tons of edible mushrooms annually (5).
A market study undertaken as part of the AgriTT 1579 project identified that the gross margin for the Ugandan mushroom industry was highest for mushroom spawn producers (~50 percent). This has resulted in unregulated growth of spawn producers, producing highly variable spawn and a situation where contaminated and infected mushroom spawn is the norm. In all likelihood, this variability has been a major cause of stagnation in Ugandan mushroom production. Variable supplies of mushroom spawn has contributed to inconsistent and skewed markets where transactions are still dominated by spot markets, lack of trust, and opportunism, with almost no contracts or long-term business relationships. It is estimated that there are over 20,000 mushroom growers in Uganda, mainly concentrated in the southern and central districts where land shortage is a problem.
Cotton husks are currently the most popular substrate for mushroom cultivation, and the price of this commodity has rocketed from about UGSH 15,000 (US$ 4) (http://www.newvision.co.ug, 2010) to the current 45,000 ($ 13) due to high demand by other industries. Mushroom farmers are now trying out other substrates, and this has limited the scale of production. Most farmers operate with 20-100 fruiting bags at a time, yielding only an average of 1-2 kg/day/farmer, sometimes less depending on the humidity and season, and especially the quality of spawn.
2.2 Role of women in mushroom cultivation in Uganda
Studies in the gender division of labour indicate that women have the prime responsibility for domestic duties and food production. Both women and men contribute to agricultural production; women play a larger role (6) and, in most cases, are solely responsible for domestic food production while the men grow cash crops (3).
Historically, Ugandan women have carried the knowledge on the uses of various wild mushrooms and have therefore been at the forefront of cultivating edible mushrooms in confined spaces. Local government agencies have encouraged the registration of cooperative mushroom farmer groups for channelling official training and support. The majority of these mushroom farmer groups are composed mainly of women and therefore mushroom growing has encouraged the growth of women’s associations including the Ugandan Mushroom Growers Association (UMGA) formed in 2004, the Maganjo Farmers Association (MAFA) established in 2001, the Bugangaizi West Constituency Mushroom Growing Association formed in 2015 and the MAVUNO Savings Groups under MTRC.
These cooperatives have increased the participation of women in mushroom production and improved knowledge sharing relating to mushroom cultivation and entrepreneurial skills. The added advantage is that mushroom cultivation has provided employment and income to housewives (7). Women have also benefited from these groups in various ways, for example when there is a labour shortage, group members are willing to share the workload. These groups, through networking activities, have also established informal market linkages. This is a significant part of mushroom growing for improved livelihoods, since women form the backbone of these enterprises.
The creation of women groups has also enabled women to access loans/credit where an individual would have been denied. Women farmers are willing to look beyond competitiveness in marketing in order to serve the common good. Organized women groups have been assimilated in the annual budgets of local governments and receive support especially within Kabale (Plate 3), Kisoro and Mbarara districts in southern Uganda. Kabale District Local Government supported farmers with a budget of UGSH 8 million (US$ 2,300) in the financial year 2014-15 (8).
Female-headed households are on the increase due to high divorce and HIV/AIDS-related morbidity/mortality rates, a situation that has a negative impact on household incomes. When a husband is taken ill or is bedridden, the wife stays home to nurse him resulting in a reduction in household income and a decline in the nutritional well-being of the family (7). Therefore, women consider mushroom cultivation as a solution to these life-threatening conditions because it is easy to start up, quick to mature and therefore provides a quick return on investment. Additionally, mushroom are highly nutritious and represent a quality food for the family.
2.3 The land holding and land tenure system in Uganda
In Uganda, land is regarded not merely as a factor of production but, first and foremost, as the medium which defines and binds social and spiritual relations within and across generations. There is gender imbalance in land ownership (biased towards men) because of paternal inheritance traditions. Women make up 7% of all landowners in Uganda while the remaining 93% have access with usufruct rights or are landless (9).Typically, men take decisions over land use and control over farm produce.
Additionally, Uganda’s complicated land tenure system and overlapping land rights have impacted negatively on the female gender and on long-term investments in the agricultural sector. Consequently, many landless potential farmers, especially women, cannot easily access land because of the costs involved, cultural norms and the threats imposed by the existing overlapping land rights even though women provide 70-80% of the agricultural labor workforce (10). Therefore, shortage of arable land is another reason for women to take up mushroom cultivation since it can be done inside a house or on an open access piece of land.
Retirement: According to 60-year-old Florence Mabogo Gogojo, who abandoned her job as a secretary with the Government of Uganda to start cultivating mushrooms, “With mushrooms you are assured of reaping from your investment unlike maize plantations which requires much labour but very less returns”. Mabogo’s husband, Francis Gogojo, says mushroom farming has significantly improved the welfare of his family http://thecontinentobserver.com/agriculture/04/23/ugandan-women-minting-cash-from-mushrooms/ (accessed 18th Jan 2015).
The little spherical house space usually left for women is all the land required for their success in the activity (Figure 2). The majority of men typically control income from farm produce but mushrooms can be sold by women with little capital input and this has attracted more women to mushroom growing.
Figure 2: Little spherical houses are enough for successful mushroom growing
2.4 Involvement in mushroom growing activity as an employment
Women tend allocate most of their land primarily to food production while men allocate a significant part to producing cash crops or high value commodities. Male labor is usually withdrawn if those crops decrease in profitability. In rural areas, it is estimated that women’s workloads both in the agricultural sector and household considerably exceed those of men. In addition, older people are more greatly involved in agriculture as a means of livelihood than all the other age categories. Men prefer to find work outside the home due to traditional practices on the division of labour (11). Marginalized poor and landless males are also able to find work as casual labourers in households growing mushrooms and assist with farming or selling the harvests. Rural women therefore create employment opportunities for men who are also trained as artisans in constructing solar dryers and mushroom houses (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Rural women create employment opportunities for men as artisans to construct solar dryers and mushroom houses.
Mushroom cultivation, even though still considered as a subsistence farming activity, is a small-scale enterprise which has gained momentum in Uganda. Due to its small-scale nature, marketing of mushrooms has mainly been done by women by the road side, in markets or through individual arrangements with buyers. However, with improved mushroom cultivation technologies, relatively higher yields will ensure the profitability of the enterprise.
Activities involved in mushroom growing range from construction of mushroom houses to collection of substrate, fermentation/composting, pasteurization, caring for the growing bags and harvesting, post-harvest handling and marketing. There are different degrees of involvement of men and women in these activities, with the woman’s role being significant. Mushroom growing as a domestic enterprise that assimilates contributions from both the husband and wife increases the success of project. Whereas Ugandan women have taken the lead in this farming sector, it is preferable for families to share responsibilities amicably (Table 1):
Table 1. Roles of men and women in a traditional mushroom cultivation set-up
- Construction of growing, incubation and fermentation rooms
- Construction of solar dryer or simple drying equipment
- Entire cultivation process
- Substrate collection & storage
- Ferrying and splitting firewood
- Collection of water from the well
During a women’s training course run by the MTRC, Mr. Andrew Byamugisha (a Commissioner from the Ministry of Agriculture) stressed that the government was willing to support the mushroom projects, especially as men had begun to actively support their wives in this initiative
MTRC has a programme to support and raise women’s income levels through favorable spawn credit terms. Under this programme, women are provided with spawn on credit to start their mushroom projects, which they pay back in kind. This has enabled them successfully establish economically sustainable projects.
Mrs. Hope Mwebesa (Figure 4) was trained at MTRC in May 2014 where she was supported to start a mini-mushroom centre in the heart of Kabale town. She received over 200 spawn packets for startup. Wasting no time, she seized this opportunity by involving all her children in cultivation, processing and marketing of her harvests. She has managed to sustain her mushroom project by marketing her produce aggressively. Hope has penetrated the market in neighbouring towns of Rwanda with her fresh and dried mushrooms.
Figure 4. Mrs. Hope Mwebesa’s mushroom farm, and selling mushrooms at a market
Women are encouraged to join savings groups to favor the continuity of their enterprises during periods of financial crisis. They acquire soft loans and credit facilities at relatively accommodative terms. The MAVUNO savings groups at MTRC do not require stringent securities as prerequisites for loans. Arise Women’s Group is one that combines farmers and business women in the community and shares over UGSH 25 million (USD 7,140) annually from their own savings.
Figure 5. MAVUNO savings groups celebrate a successful end to the 2014 cycle-year
3.0 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Mushroom production in Uganda remains a smallholder and subsistence enterprise but is a key activity for empowering women in agriculture. AgriTT project 1579, with the help of partners from China, has introduced a number of key programmes to improve the infrastructure for enhancing the mushroom market in Uganda. These include
- Private sector extension service: The BSMB initiative in 2005 (4) concluded that private sector agricultural extension can have a major impact in poverty alleviation in subsistence type farming through linkage with the market. AgriTT project 1579 has delivered this type of extension service to subsistence mushroom farmers in Hoima, Mubende, Kamwengye and Kirima-Kanungu district with the help of our Ugandan partners, MTRC and capacity building through our Chinese partners, Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Science.
- Mushroom production expertise at BSc level of higher: Makerere University has taken delivery of a mushroom training facility donated by AgriTT project 1579 for implementation of an undergraduate and graduate mushroom biology course where academics involved in teaching these courses were trained in China at the Institute of Edible Fungi, Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences. A permanent mushroom germplasm culture collection is now operational at Makerere University and is expected to contribute to future mushroom breeding initiatives.
- Guarantee of quality of mushroom spawn: The Ugandan National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has initiated the development of a standard for mushroom spawn production with technical support from Chinese partners and public consultation for the standard is now available
Mushroom growing is still considered a women’s occupation in Uganda and therefore realization of women’s rights to land and household property will be a key to further improve investment in mushroom cultivation.
We are thankful to the AgriTT project on “Optimising mushroom spawn production in Uganda” for supporting growth of the mushroom industry through its successful activities at the Mushroom Training and Resource Centre, Makerere University and the Uganda Industrial Research Institute.
We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of the United Kingdom for support of Dr Pradeep Malakar.
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- Making service markets work for the poor: The experience of Uganda (2005): http://bsmd.vanbussel.biz/docs/Mushroom_Market_Assessment_report_20030628.pdf (accessed on 18th Jan 2016)
- Zhang, Y., Geng, W., Shen, Y., Wang, Y and Yu-Cheng Dai YC, (2014), Edible mushroom cultivation for food security and rural development in china: bio-innovation, technological dissemination and marketing, Sustainability, 6, p:2961-2973; doi:10.3390/su6052961
- FAO, (2011), The role of women in Agriculture, ESA Working Paper, No. 11-02
- Kiguli J. (2003), Mushroom Cultivation in Urban Kampala, Uganda.” Urban Agriculture Magazine: 20-1 : www.alnap.org/pool/files/mushroom-cultivation-in-kampala.pdf, accessed on (accessed on 18th Jan 2016)
- Kabale District Local Government gives support to Mushroom Farmers, (2014), http://www.oystermushroom.ug/?p=818 , (accessed on 18th Jan 2016).
- Busingye, H. (2002) ‘Ensuring Women’s Land Access’, Land Policy and Institutions Workshops CD-ROM Africa and the MENA Region, Kampala April 29 – May 2: The World Bank.
- Ovonji-Odida, I., Muhereza, F.E., Eturu, L. and Willy, L.A. 2000. Land, Gender and Poverty Eradication: Is there a case for Spousal Co-ownership of Primary Household Property? Land Act Implementation Project, Kampala, Uganda
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