Curbing climate change is a massive undertaking. But one method of doing so could be right beneath our feet. Soil is a low-impact, cost-effective way of removing carbon from the atmosphere, and studies have found that implementing regenerative agricultural practices promotes this natural method of capturing carbon.
Let’s take a look at why restoring biologic ecosystems and sequestering carbon through soil is so critical–now more than ever. Mushroom farming is today becoming a popular, commercial and job creator for farmers and traders in Uganda. Since 1995, Pleurotus Austreatus (oyster mushrooms) have been grown on a commercial basis in majorly southwestern Uganda. More than 800 active mushroom growers, mostly rural women and youth, are scattered in the three districts of Kabale, Kanungu and Kisoro.
In the past, mushrooms have traditionally been picked from the wild and farmers did not grow them commercially. The government and various non-profit organizations are now touting commercial production of oyster mushrooms which helps in preserving the environment but also increase incomes of the local farmers, who depend on rain-fed crop growing.
World Vision for instance uses the Building Secure Livelihoods project model that aims to build and sustain secure livelihoods for poor households. The model involves improving access to finance through Savings for Transformation, changing behaviour through Empowered World View, and improving production and entrepreneurship through local value chain development and business skills training interventions.
Amid low crop yields due to recurring drought spells triggered by the impacts of climate change, some farmers across Uganda have switched to growing protein-rich oyster mushrooms to raise incomes, improve livelihoods, and protect the environment.
Mushrooms are fungi that have their root system entirely underground enabling increased water and nutrients absorption. While serving as one of the best allies in carbon storage, they help trees pull down carbon into the soil and keep it there.
In 2015, Deogratious Rachakara founded Agamega Agro Enterprise located along Jomo Kenyatta road, Gulu City in the northern part of Uganda with the aim of promoting and training mushroom growing skills in Northern Uganda.
Deogratious says Mushrooms have a remarkable ability to absorb carbon amongst their many other industrial, nutritional and pharmaceutical benefits of mycelium, the dense, fibrous roots of the mushroom that typically live beneath the soil. He adds that Mushrooms are also an essential part of the planet’s ecosystem and life cycle as they recycle nutrients, keeping forests healthy. They produce long, thin filaments in the soil that connect roots to create a symbiotic network. They take nutrients from plants, like trees, but also provide water and nutrients to the roots. Plants with mycorrhizae fungi thrive compared to those without them. “We use waste from farms to form the soil. This makes the environment clean,” Mr deogratious said.
He built a simple rough house referred to as the “earthbag house” using mud and grasses at Elephante Common Residence where his mushroom farm is situated in Gulu City. The mud and grasses are helpful to control the temperature and humidity, according to him. “Mushrooms are fungi and cannot withstand hot temperature. Since weather in Gulu is generally hot by nature, I built the farm-house using the mud and grasses to produce humidity that controls the temperature,” he explained, adding that nothing can be harvested if it is hot.
“Mushrooms are very sensitive,” he says. “They react to anything, including powerful scents from soaps and perfumes, and they’re also affected by too much noise. You must handle with extra care as any condition in excess can impact on the yield.”
The Agro enterprise has managed to train more than a hundred people in mushroom growing in Gulu. Deogratious employs 5 youth on permanent basis and other 10 people who temporarily work during the preparations, production, harvesting and marketing periods. He hopes this number will grow as the enterprise expands.
Mr. Deogratious sells the mushroom to individuals especially market vendors, supermarkets, shops or mini supermarkets, hotels and restaurants like Elephante restaurant. He holds a yearly tasting festival at Elephante cafe and restaurant where different members of the community can have a chance to taste the product and appreciate its value. This festival is one of his market expansion strategies that have made him popularly know in Gulu city as a mushroom supplier.
Mushrooms are alternative protein source to meat which emits 50 to 750 kg of carbon dioxide. As vegetarian trend continues to grow which is another form of fighting climate change.
What Authorities in Gulu Say.
Mr. Ocan Micheal Chris, the environmental officer Gulu District advises people to learn the practice of mushroom growing. ” The world has a vision to see every poor household secure and sustain livelihoods, it is therefore commendable that the youth learn and appreciate improved methods of agriculture rather than staying unemployed.” He advised.
He also adds that since Gulu District and Uganda as a whole is a predominantly an agricultural society, modern methods of farming need to be exposed and taught to the lay man in the villages. Mushroom growing to him is a growing trend that will open Uganda’s exports to an available market in China and other countries.
When asked about the other climate change reduction methods used in the area, Mr Ocan Micheal Chris who is the Gulu District Environment Officer said that they mostly rely on nature based solutions like Afforestation, re-afforestation, wetland and forest conservation amongst others. He added that public response towards addressing climate change is minimal mostly because of ignorance amongst the masses.
To solve the problem however, they have partnered with organizations and other government bodies to sensitize masses about the importance of conserving the environment. ” We have partnered with UMEME which has provided 100 tree seedlings that we are planting along ring road in our city here so as to conserve the environment.” Ocan says. He adds that they are too partnering with other cities in Uganda under the City formation documentation aimed at making resilience to cities by 2030.
How it is done.
Mushroom farming consists of six steps, and although the divisions are somewhat arbitrary, these steps identify what is needed to form a production system. The six steps involve composting, spawning, casing, pinning, and cropping. These steps are described in their naturally occurring sequence, emphasizing the salient features within each step.
- Get your spawn and substrate, You’ll need a spawn to start the culture. You can produce your own spawn using a sterile culture, or you can buy ready-to-inoculate spawn, which are carried by suppliers. Producing your own can be cheaper in the long run, but the start-up costs can be high, so chances are buying the ready-to-inoculate spawn is the way to go for you. You’ll also need to buy the substrate. Many growers use straw or wood chips. Straw is generally the preferred method. You want straw that can be chopped up into little pieces.
- Prepare substrate,First, chop the straw into short pieces. Next, wet the straw. Now it’s time to heat the straw in boiling water. Continue boiling for half an hour and then remove the straw and drain it. Next, spread out the straw on a clean surface and let it cool down.
- Pack the bags, First, chop the straw into short pieces. Next, wet the straw. Now it’s time to heat the straw in boiling water. Continue boiling for half an hour and then remove the straw and drain it. Next, spread out the straw on a clean surface and let it cool down.
- Incubation, Now it’s time for incubation. Keep the growing area at around 78 degrees F. Places the bags on a shelving unit. Remember to stop any threats of natural light getting into the room. Cover windows and cracks. Use a red “darkroom” light when you need to check on your bags. When you start to notice tiny pinhead mushrooms near the air holes in your bag, then you’re ready to move on to the next step.
- Fruiting ,For your fruiting room, you need a high level of humidity. The temperature will need to be 65 to 70 degrees F. Unlike the incubation room, you’ll actually need a lot of natural light—at least 12 hours a day. To shock your mycelium, which will force it into fruiting, move the bags to a cool place for a day, such as a basement or other cool place, and then move them back to the fruiting room. Next, cut away the bag, which allows mushroom growth to take place.
- Harvest, Just before your mushroom caps are fully uncurled, that’s when it’s time to harvest. To do so, twist the stem off as near to the growing block as you are able to. You’ve now harvested your mushrooms.