There is growing interest in developing
commercial cultivation of mushrooms
throughout Africa. This brief focuses
on this practice in Zimbabwe.
Although mushroom growing is not
generally regarded as a traditional
activity in Africa, the collection of wild
mushroom is. Traditionally these were
collected at the start of the rainy
season and knowledge of which types
were good to eat and which were
poisonous was shared between young
and old within the community.
This knowledge is no longer being
passed on, especially in urban areas
so people are becoming reluctant to
eat wild mushrooms. The uptake of
mushroom cultivation has been more
noticeable in urban areas.
Figure 1: Growing oyster mushrooms in plastic bags
inside a mushroom growing house in Zimbabwe. Photo
Credit: Practical Action / Warwick Franklin.
Mushrooms are a valuable source of food and their cultivation can be a viable small-scale
business, but investing in a mushroom growing scheme can be risky so a feasibility study
looking at potential markets and supply chains should be done before starting. A general
understanding of mushroom growing should be obtained through training or literature to
ensure the best chance of success. Some expert assistance will help at this stage.
As well as individual small-scale production, set up options include cooperatives and
community groups that can collaborate in set-up costs, production costs, harvesting and
marketing. It helps not to work in isolation but in joint ventures with regional agro-industries
and universities as they can assist with training and extension workshops.
What are mushrooms?
Cultivated mushrooms are edible fungi that grow on decaying organic matter, known as a
substrate. Unlike vegetables they do not rely on sunlight to grow. Mushrooms start as very
small spawns. The spawns will grow in the substrate to produce a fine white fibrous structure
called mycelium. From the mycelium the mushroom fruit is produced. This is the part that is
Mushrooms have a high nutritional value and are high in protein. They are also a good source
of vitamins (B1, B2, B12 and C), essential amino acids, and carbohydrates but are low in fat
and fibre and contain no starch. When fresh they have a very high water content of around
90%. Minerals present include phosphorus, potassium, iron and copper.
Mushrooms grow in bursts known as flushes approximately every 7 to 10 days for a few weeks
with yields falling over time. The first three flushes yield more than 70% of the total. The
growing time will be dependant on type of mushroom and the growing conditions.
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