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Integrated mushroom farming and training model from agriculture waste to eliminate hunger and improve soil health.

Our idea is to educate, train and equip slum residents to sustainably grow oyster mushrooms indoors on agriculture waste to reduce hunger.

Photo of Shingayi Eleanor Manske

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

In Zimbabwe, people face the problems of high rates of hunger and unemployment. An estimated 1.5 million people lack access to adequate food. The country faces declines in maize production due to drought, shifts in rainfall patterns, depleted soils and economic stagnation. This has forced thousands of people to migrate to cities like Harare looking for work. Unfortunately, with unemployment as high as 80% and rising food costs, most of these people are unable to find work or to earn enough to buy adequate food. Our idea is to educate, train and equip slum residents to sustainably grow oyster mushrooms indoors on agriculture waste to reduce hunger and improve soil health. Our goal is to create a sustainable system that reduces the cost of production. Zimbabwe generates huge amounts of agricultural-waste from farming that typically ends up dumped in landfills contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). Using a partnership model, we would provide urban farmers with mushroom growing kits (spawn and substrate), training, agronomy support, and a guaranteed market for their fresh, local mushrooms. For urban entrepreneurs, we would provide them with access to retrofitted shipping container farms that use alternative energy. These shipping container farms would enable them to grow mushrooms year round on diverted waste despite spikes in temperature. Our model enables urban farmers to increase their income by 50% and diversify their vegetable production and diets.

WHO BENEFITS?

The main beneficiaries are the people growing mushrooms, who will have improved control of their own food and increased incomes from selling their mushrooms. The overall community benefits from improved access to fresh, affordable food which will diversify largely inadequate, and unbalanced corn-based diets. Local farms benefit from access to biofertilizer for sustainable vegetable production. Supermarkets will benefit from consistent fresh, locally grown mushrooms and vegetables.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Mushroom farming requires a limited amount of space which is key for urban areas. They can grow year round, are nutritious, fast-growing and produce extremely high yields in a small space, on average one pound of mushrooms is produced on a pound of wheat straw substrate. The closed loop system we use diverts agriculture waste from being dumped in landfills and uses the spent mushrooms substrate as a biofertilizer for container vegetable production in slums. The shipping container farms enable growers to not be affected by the vagaries of climate change because the structures are durable, structurally sound and also climate controlled. Providing farmers with all the tools and knowledge to grow mushrooms and access to high-value guaranteed markets enables them to increase their incomes to then access health care services and to send their children to school.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am the co-founder of Dendere International {Soko Mushrooms}. I grew up on a diversified farm in Ruwa, just 5 miles from Epworth, one of the largest slums in Zimbabwe. For over two years, we have been growing and processing mushrooms. I have experience in international development and policy.

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

Our idea is an extension from what we have already working on for the past two years with Soko Mushrooms. We currently provide farmers with mushroom training and substrate, then buy-back mushrooms for processing and distribution. Our training is currently focused on growers in rural areas and peri-urban areas who are converting existing structures to grow mushrooms.This new idea targets slum residents and businesses that have unused urban land. It also introduces a grow house facility, the Fungi Growbox. This is an energy efficient modular farm that we would design and build out using reclaimed shipping containers. The shipping container was chosen for its strength, consistent size and durability.The shipping container farm is something new, that we would like to test out on a pilot.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

Our idea differs from current approaches because it takes a systems-based approach to food insecurity in cities. By focusing on providing low-cost, durable and off-grid grow houses, training, bulk substrates, access to financing, extension and market access we are able to address all the stages of the mushroom value chain. Our ready-to-use closed-loop commercial Fungi GrowBox helps to achieve better crop yields. “Fungi Growbox” provides farmers with the necessary tools, training and equipment they need for high-quality mushroom crops. It guarantees: modular and sustainable system, off-grid energy, and ability to grow food anywhere. As franchisees grow they are able to quickly scale up production with additional grow boxes. Our solar-powered brick structure option has a cement floor with good drainage, well insulated and good ventilation for temperature and humidity control. Our advantage is that we have been working with resource constrained farmers growing mushroom commercially in Zimbabwe. We have also focused on post-harvest initiatives with our mushroom products and aggregation. My family has over 20 years of experience running businesses in urban slums in Zimbabwe.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

The unknown information is city council policies and protection of urban farming. Farming in urban slum presents logistical and regulatory challenges. Some city councils require permits. Some cities like Bulawayo have introduced facilitating policies and regulations on urban farming that other cities like Harare could adopt. There is a need for government involvement to move urban farming forward. The second question we are grappling with is the issue of affordability. The growbox structures would be cost prohibitive for most slum dwellers. The business owners in the slums such as the store owners, churches, hospitals and community self-help groups would need financing to purchase them.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

They are a number of reasons why this problem has not been solved. First, most solutions have relied on subsidized donor support. Many of the farms were not equipped to supply their own growing medium (bulk substrate and spawn) when donor funding ran dry. Second, lack of access to a secure market due to low volumes which were not adequate for most supermarkets.Third, many of the mushroom farms were located far from urban markets. Mushrooms are highly perishable and without proper refrigeration or processing a lot of farmers faced high rates of food loss and waste. Last, farmers had no proper environmental controls for their grow rooms or proper training which led to contamination and loss.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

Updated 12/22 Our idea has changed to focus on franchising our Fungi grow boxes to a network of local slum entrepreneurs on credit. The modular container grow boxes would provide skilled entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow mushrooms commercially. Given the high cost of the shipping containers for slum entrepreneurs, we have introduced a second grow structure option. A small two-room brick structure with a cement floor, well insulated and ventilated. The structure maintains the green design and durability of the container but at a lower cost. We would then provide training, spawn and substrate, extension support and waste pick services to the franchisees on an annual subscription basis. The shipping containers would be provided on credit through a partnership with a microfinance institution. We conducted surveys in urban slums in Harare for both consumers and potential farmers. We took oyster mushrooms samples to local canteens to ask if they would be interested in mushrooms. We received questions about how to prepare the mushrooms and some people indicated that they did not like mushrooms. Increased product awareness through food demonstrations and promotion are key. Other ideas include advertising and good branding. In a country where mushrooms are not currently part of the staple diet, we need to engage all buyers and develop familiar mushroom products like mushroom porridge and mushroom maize flour blend to help stimulate local demand.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

Updated 12/22: Our long-term goal is for urban slum residents to have access to fresh, healthy food. The long-term objective is to raise additional funding to scale mushroom production infrastructure in all slums of Harare, hire key staff and build partnerships. The model involves 5 parts: (1.) low-cost container grow boxes and low cost durable structures (2.) distribution using a franchise model on credit (3.) providing farmer training, inputs and agronomic support (4.) collecting the mushrooms and spent mushroom waste produced at a fair price (5.) processing the mushrooms into mushroom products and the waste into organic fertilizer for container vegetable production.

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How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

Updated 12/22: My idea tackles the challenge of food insecurity and unemployment in urban slums. By providing sustainable access to healthy, affordable local food, we improve the nutrition and health of slum residents. This ties into the work of local non-governmental organizations and health care facilities in Harare working on issues related to poor health and malnutrition due to limited incomes and poor diets. Our training and durable small infrastructure provide urban farmers with an alternative livelihood and sustainable income that enables them to withstand economic, social and environmental shocks. This connects to the city council's goal of economic development and environmental sustainability.

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Shingayi,
Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to reading your responses! 

(1) Could you provide additional details about mushroom demand in Zimbabwe? (2) Could you explain how you plan to source and deliver shipping containers for the project? (3) Can you provide more insights into this statement: "My family has over 20 years of experience running businesses in urban slums in Zimbabwe." (4) Do you have any thoughts about how Fungi Growboxes could be financed; have you seen any local financial institutions provide farming finance, specifically finance for the urban farming market?

Is there a guaranteed local or international market for these mushrooms? how big is the market? what are the transport costs? are there any disease vulnerabilities? don't the substraits stop producing after a few cycles which would necessitate a continues purchase of new substraits? how affordable are the reclaimed shipping containers? can this be done in a cheaper greenhouse style if they are very expensive in order to scale the cost for certain users?

How do you envision using Amplify support? 

Photo of Shingayi Eleanor Manske
Team

Hi Chioma,

Thank you for the questions from the experts. My responses are below.

(1) Reliable data on mushroom demand is currently limited. The Horticultural Promotion Council in Zimbabwe used to track this information, but last updated in 1999. The most recent report on the mushroom industry in Zimbabwe is from 2004 and doesn’t show overall demand. We determine demand based on our retail outlet and wholesale orders. We are currently unable to meet our supermarket and wholesale supplier orders especially during the hot periods due to power challenges. Currently most of our supermarket customers supplement supply during the hot season (summer) with imports from South Africa. You also see prices fluctuate throughout the year due to supply constraints most of the year and oversupply in winter months.
(2) We have looked at used shipping containers available locally at auction for about $4000 for a 40 ft. container, and $2000 for a 20ft depending on the condition. This is one option we have seen for sourcing and delivering containers for this project. The other option we see is importing already retrofitted shipping containers directly from China. This would be considered agricultural equipment, therefore, come in duty-free.
(3) Sure, my family has operated an independent grocery business called Musarurwa Supermarket since 1982. They have run shops in high-density areas like Mbare, Highfields and currently operate in Sunningdale.
(4) We have seen a fund called the CreateFund, that is operated by local financial institutions that are providing funding for inclusive agriculture projects. This is one option that we saw for funding. It, however, does not target the farmers directly but contracting companies and other intermediaries. With the current credit crunch and low funding environment, I believe that financing for an urban farming project like this will need to come from other sources like crowdfunding or marketing to the diaspora looking to support their families in Zimbabwe.

Photo of Shingayi Eleanor Manske
Team

(5) There is a market for fresh and value-added gourmet mushrooms locally. Currently, that demand has been concentrated in the middle to high-income segments of the urban population. Unfortunately specific, reliable data is not available. We do know that have been unable to meet that local demand due to the frequent power outages. For the value added and/or organic mushroom products, there is a large international market. According to the USITC, the mushroom market is a $20 billion a year market worldwide. The largest importer and center of the preserved gourmet mushrooms market is Germany. If production costs are controlled there is potential to supply competitive markets like Germany and Russia with value-added exotic mushrooms in the off-season. For the slum populations, they are still an unfamiliarity with cultivated mushrooms. We believe that processed mushroom products which don’t taste like fresh mushrooms are a good way of introducing them to mushrooms. We have seen this approach used successfully to introduce crickets to the US and European markets. The transport costs of operating close to the market in a place like Epworth are negligible. The town is close to the city center and also to the international airport. We are looking at motorcycle with a refrigerated trailer as a low-cost delivery vehicle to keep transport costs low. Yes, they are disease vulnerabilities to mushrooms if good sanitation and proper hygiene practices are not maintained throughout the growing cycle. These problems include things like competitor mould, insects and pathogens. Other problems with disease and pests are usually the result of poorly constructed grow houses. Well constructed grow house and good hygiene practices are the best methods of controlling disease infections. You are right that substrates are used up every growing cycle then composted. Most commercial growers stock up on their preferred substrates. The beauty of oyster mushrooms is the vast array of substrate options they can grow on. Bulk buying the substrates provides incomes to wheat and cotton farmers who are facing low prices. The locally available used containers are about $4000 for a 40 ft container and $2000 for a 20ft container. We would like to go directly to China to source used shipping containers. Yes a cheaper greenhouse is a great option for scaling down the cost, we have been exploring other growing options that flat-packed and can be assembled on site and can still address the power challenges.
(6)I envision using Amplify’s support to refine the idea to better meet the needs of the urban farmers. I also see it as an opportunity to get advise on good construction design, implementation and the operations of an integrated urban food production project. 

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Shingayi,
Thanks for your comprehensive responses! I have a few follow up questions that I hope you could answer. The first relates to potential profitability. If the containers cost $2-4k, what volume of sales would be necessary for a plan like this to be profitable?
This project is quite unique. It's clear that you have a lot of expertise in the mushroom business - and also that mushrooms are not a popular domestic product in the communities where you propose this farming take place. What feedback have you gotten from these communities about whether they'd be interested in a project like this and why? 

Photo of Shingayi Eleanor Manske
Team

Hi Chioma, thanks for the follow up questions. We've been exploring options for lowering the cost of the fungi growboxes using locally available materials (cement, insulation, air circulation and solar)  while addressing the challenges with most of the grow structures currently in use. To use the container growboxes at 2-4K + the growers would need to be growing high-value mushrooms like shiitake with an export market.  The other alternative would be to maximize their growing potential to grow at least 500 grow bags in a container, which would yield about 3kg per bag. The current price for oyster mushrooms is $4/kg. The climate controlled growboxes would enable them to grow 3 cycles of oyster mushrooms a year and allow the urban slum entrepreneurs to repay the growboxes they purchase on credit.

The people who had eaten wild mushrooms in the villages them.  The majority of the people had questions about how to prepare them.  Some people had concerns that all mushrooms are all poisonous. They is definitely need to educate consumers through product tastings, demos and promotions to show how to prepare mushrooms, how they can be added to traditional meals and their health benefits.

We put out a call for mushroom training and we have received  a number of messages from would be urban slum entrepreneurs requesting to be trained. They wanted to know if we would have a market for them once they had mushrooms
to sell. The reasons we received a lot of interest was the ability to earn an additional source of income, ability to work close to home, a source of food and having a guaranteed market.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Very helpful, thank you Shingayi!

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