Nov 18, 2015

Improving a Malawian Cooperative’s Production of Mushrooms

By: The Farmer-to-Farmer Team, Washington D.C. and Malawi

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

From November 16 – December 11, 2015, partners of the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program are sharing their knowledge and experience in providing volunteer technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. Closely aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, the F2F Program works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Targeted volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth in ways which increase incomes and improve access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share the experiences of hosts, volunteers, and program partners.

Meet the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative

Established in 2003, the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative is located just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital.  The cooperative, comprised of 29 women and six men, had been experiencing difficulties in cultivating mushrooms for sale and consumption since its inception, due to inadequate growing methods and a lack of access to quality resources. Despite these challenges, the members of the Chalera Cooperative refused to abandon their goals of developing a successful mushroom cooperative, and turned to Farmer-to-Farmer for assistance with learning new methods of cultivation to improve their operations.

CNFA responded to their request by sending Matthew Cleaver, a seasoned CNFA volunteer and mushroom expert, on an assignment to equip cooperative members with the skills needed to improve their mushroom production.  With more than 15 years in the mushroom industry, Mr. Cleaver has an impressive record of successfully introducing new technologies to mushroom farmers, enabling them to increase their yields through improved production practices.

Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Addresses Challenges to Production

Mr. Cleaver worked with the Chalera members to find solutions to the challenges they faced, including inadequate chemical pasteurization methods and a lack of proper growing spaces.  He trained the members on chemical, heat, and natural pasteurization methods, which are vital in reducing any microscopic “competitors,” allowing the fungi to thrive. He also made recommendations to the group on how to transform their grow-house into a mushroom growing haven by adding clear plastic over the windows and roof to allow light and heat in, keeping the space at an ideal temperature for mushroom cultivation. The cooperative members pictured here are working to implement one of the key lessons from their training: reducing the size of corn husk pieces which are used as a base for mushroom cultivation, which helps the growing fungi absorb more water.

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The Results 

Prior to Mr. Cleaver working with the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative as a CNFA volunteer, the group sold close to 96 kilograms of oyster mushrooms per week.  After implementing recommendations from Mr. Cleaver’s training, the cooperative currently sells 168 kilograms per week, a 71% increase in sales! In addition, building on the resulting group momentum and increased confidence, the cooperative built 14 new mushroom growing sheds.  The sheds, along with the cooperative members’ knowledge of new and improved cultivation technologies, will continue to increase the quantity of their mushroom production and sales as the cooperative scales. As the group masters Mr. Cleaver’s lessons and shares the new techniques with other farmers, it will support improved incomes and diversified nutrition options for its members and their families, as well as for the wider community.

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This example of successful knowledge transfer is one of many that occur each year during Farmer-to-Farmer assignments. It reflects not only the desire of participants to learn and to thrive, but also the passion and dedication of our volunteers. By focusing on improving the specific technical skills needed by smallholder farmers, Farmer-to-Farmer continues to generate tangible and replicable positive outcomes. Its unique approach improves livelihoods for those directly assisted, as well as whole communities, for generations to come.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.