Ethiopian Business Review

Mushroom for Youth Employment, Food Security Featured

As Ethiopia’s restaurant and hospitality industries continue to grow and many European cuisines flourish in main streets of Addis Ababa, the mushroom business is taking root. One can easily witness this from the new trend of advertisements about mushroom almost everywhere. Posted on billboards, electric or telecom polls, and walls and sometimes in the form of leaflets distributed by young boys in the busy streets of the Addis Ababa, information about mushroom products and market access is reaching the public in large numbers. Several companies have also been established recently to produce and collect mushrooms from producers to supply for restaurants, cafeterias and supermarkets.

The Mind Mushroom is one of these business establishments that produce as well as collect mushroom. It also gives training and support to new comers to the business. “I always wanted to be self-employed, since my childhood,” says Getahun Ekyaw, general manger and co-founder of the company. “The small amount of investment the business requires to start operation helped me to realize my dream of having my own business.” 

Getahun enrolled in Hawassa University in 2008 and studied Food Science and Technology.  During the summer break when he came home to Addis Ababa, he used to see some people making a fortune in the mushroom business, which made him curious to enter the industry. “Eventually after graduation my brother and I rented a place for 250 birr around Asko [North Western Addis Ababa], and started the business with a total capital of ETB30,000. We started making more than 100Pct as profit a year later,” Getahun recalls. Today his company is one of the active companies in the sector creating employment opportunities for some youth in his farm and other out growers who receive training from him.

Currently Getahun has become a trainer for people who want to join the business. He charges ETB350 for one day training. At the time EBR visited his company in late June, nine people were taking the training. He trains an average of 35 people monthly. This has further given Getahun additional source of revenue. 

Big hotels like Sheraton Addis, Hilton and Friendship Hotel are in the list of The Mind Mushroom’s customers. Getahun states that he provides 15kg of mushrooms for each of these hotels on daily basis. Most of the time Getahun’s company fails to satisfy the hotels because he can’t meet their demand in terms of quantity. The selling price of fresh mushroom for hotels is ETB70 /Kg, while he collects it  from the producers with the price of ETB55.  Three years ago the buying price from producers was ETB30 and the selling price for hotel was ETB40. The significant increase shows how the mushroom business is growing. Mushroom is not always sold fresh, in case it could not be sold fresh, producers can dry it using microwave oven and sell it for a higher price of ETB500 per kilo. 

In spite of its easy production, investment and effort it needs, mushroom is highly-exposed for contamination. For example, after harvesting the fresh mushroom cannot stay healthy for more than a day without refrigerator. 

The dried ones, too, are difficult to care for, as they need great care and sanitation. The drying must be done with microwave oven or with clean foil by sun light. Monarch hotel, a newly built hotel around Edna Mall, in the vicinity of Bole Medhanialem, a now becoming down town of the burgeoning Addis Ababa is another Hotel which uses mushroom in its cuisine, but imported. A chef who works at this hotel told EBR that the hotel doesn’t use the local mushroom for quality related concerns.

Bambis Supermarket is one of the suppliers of imported and processed mushroom, which is the choice of many big hotels in Addis. Mensur Bambis who is a sale supervisor at this super market tells that they sell up to 240 cans of mushroom monthly; the price for one can is ETB410.  The processed mushroom which can last for longer period comes mainly from United States and United Arab Emirates.

Presently, mushroom farming in Ethiopia doesn’t seem to have received attention from the government. In a country where youth unemployment and food insecurity is a huge concern, mushroom could offer a big opportunity as a business for unemployed youth and to supplement the food sufficiency quest of the country. It seems that the government didn’t give due attention to the multifaceted benefits mushroom farming could bring to the country for long. 

However, there now seems to be a change regarding mushroom production in Ethiopia. There is at least one Chinese mushroom expert, Mr. Wang Jian, who works at Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) on the issue. Jian advises the Ministry on mushroom cultivation; trains farmers engaged in the production of the fungus plant how to preserve and keep its sanitation as well. He also trains in the development of technologies that uses to produce more mushroom in small area. With the work he is now doing, Jian hopes that Mushroom will become part of the staple food item in Ethiopia soon. He says, the increasing number of Pizza catering restaurants in the city is indicative of where the nation is heading.

Although the potential of mushrooms is huge, businesses engaged in its production explain the need to establish processing plant. This will help to avoid the loss of business due to the short span of mushroom- processing the plant in a factory and packing it will help to store mushroom for longer period. It also gives buyers confidence by avoiding sanitation related concerns. 

Ethio-mushroom, established in 2009 as a micro-enterprise in Addis Ababa to produce mushroom, is one such company promoting the idea of establishing a plant. The youths in the company have now prepared a project proposal for acquiring ETB20 million from Development Bank of Ethiopia, according to Amaha Hailu, 42, a microbiologist who attended BSc training at the London based National Health Service (NHS), and now serves as general manager of the enterprise. If their request for the project financing receives favourable response, they will be the first company to establish mushroom processing plant in Ethiopia. This will allow the company to produce processed mushroom for local and export market. “We will export at least to the neighbouring countries,” Amaha shared vision of his company.

Mushrooms, the plant of immortality? 

That’s what ancient Egyptians believed according to the hieroglyphics of 4600 years ago. The delicious flavor of mushrooms intrigued the pharaohs of Egypt so much that they decreed mushrooms were food for royalty and that no commoner could ever touch them. 

Ancient Egypt wasn’t the only place where mushrooms were revered for their healthful benefits. In various other civilizations throughout the world, including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, mushroom rituals were practiced. Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super-human strength, help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the gods. 

France was the leader in the formal cultivation of mushrooms. Some accounts say that Louis XIV was the first mushroom grower. Mushrooms were grown in special caves near Paris set aside for this unique form of agriculture. From France, the gardeners of England found mushrooms a very easy crop to grow which required little labor, investment and space. Mushroom cultivation began gaining popularity in England.

In the late 19th century, mushroom production made its way across the Atlantic to the United States where curious home gardeners in the East tried their luck at growing crop. But today, mushroom can be found anywhere in the world and Ethiopia is not the exception.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), China is the global mushroom production leader in the world. An estimated 35 million people are engaged in the labour-intensive mushroom industry in the country. Along with China, the United States, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Poland are the most important, with an annual output of more than 0.10 million tones 76Pct of the world’s mushroom production

Among the above mentioned countries, China is the biggest exporter. According to Chinese customs statistics (2003), the total export of all kinds of mushrooms was 3.51 million tons. The export value reached 505 million dollars in the year. The figure has now grown to more than 2.4 billion dollar in 2012, which is 76Pct of all export earning in Ethiopia at that time. 

Mushroom producers approached by EBR strongly suggest that the government should give due attention for the development of mushroom production in the country. Mekonnen Hagos (PhD) is Dean of Medco Biomedical College in Addis Ababa. The college has a mushroom production project. He claims to have pioneered commercial production of mushrooms in Ethiopia. So far, his company has trained more than 9000 people in the past five years. He suggests that there must be a strong government regulatory body, which oversees the production of mushroom. Since mushroom is a highly-sensitive microbiological product which can be modified for good or bad, knowingly or unknowingly, strong government intervention is important to avoid health related risks of mushroom consumption.

Global RankCountryProduction 2007 in MTProduction 2004 in MT
1 China 1,568,523 1,360,501
2 United States 359,630 387,601
3 Netherlands 240,000 260,000
4 Poland 180,000 150,000
5 France 162,450 165,466

Though Ethiopia is endowed with resources to produce the Oaster mushroom throughout the year there is no meaningful production at the moment. The government doesn’t have any plan or guidelines at the national level for the production of the plant until recently. For a government that has programmes geared towards expanding urban agriculture as part of the urban poverty alleviation and youth employment creation programme, incorporating mushroom production in this package could help a lot. 

It is only now that MOA started working to establish a case team which will oversees the production of mushroom in the country. The contribution of Mr. Jian, the Chinese expert, is expected to make a difference in this regard.  Perhaps the Ministry could take lesson from Addis Ababa City Administration Agriculture Bureau, which considered mushroom as a type of youth employment creation programme. 

In  the budget year that just ended, the Bureau planned to create 2512 job opportunity in the mushroom business and achieved to distribute seed for 1397 youths. The Bureau has also built a laboratory which hybrids seeds and distributes for producers. 

Regardless of the government’s weak supervision, mushroom producers like Getahun are reaping the benefits of the booming business in town.

2nd Year . August 2014 . No.17

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