The good old mushroom

The good old mushroom

MASERU – Can mushroom flourish to become the backbone of Lesotho’s economy?
Motlomelo Motlomelo, a farmer in Masianokeng, thinks it can be done.
Like many other farmers, Motlomelo is pinning his hopes on a 10-year-old agreement between Lesotho and the Chinese government to promote Juncao technology in the country.

Motlomelo says he foresees vast mushroom farms and a plethora of mushroom products.
Motlomelo is not only producing mushroom but also the juncao grass, which was introduced by the Chinese.
Juncao is an agricultural technology to produce edible and medicinal fungi using wild grass and herbal plants instead of relying on trees.
Juncao Technology is a priority project that the China-UN Fund is promoting in an effort to help Asian and African countries eradicate poverty and overcome developmental challenges.

It is developed from research conducted by Professor Lin Zhanxi of China’s Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University who invented the Juncao technology in the 1980s. The Juncao grass, which Motlomelo is concentrating on, develops its root system in deserts and grows fast becoming useful in controlling soil erosion, desertification and managing saline-alkali soil.

It is also used to produce clean energy. Its promoters say the power generated from the burning of Juncao grown on one hectare of land is equivalent to that derived from more than 50 tons of coal, but with much less emissions.

So far, Motlomelo uses the grass solely to make huts for shade for his mushrooms and to feed his livestock.
“I am really benefiting from the agreement Lesotho entered with China. I see a great potential in mushroom business and the juncao grass,” Motlomelo says.

Under the Lesotho-Sino agreement, the Juncao Technology Centre was set up in Masianokeng where over 100 Basotho were trained on making spawns. At least over 50 small mushroom projects were established countrywide in the past decade.
Mushroom farming has a good return and has huge potential to create employment.

A farmer selling a kilogram for M20 in a 10 square metre trench gets M24 000 a year.
Mushroom is cultivated 7-10 days after planting.
This is a year-round business: four seasons a year and it is not affected by the weather.
From the 10 square metre mushroom trench, 300kg fresh mushrooms can be produced in a season, which is equivalent to 1 200kg of mushrooms in a year.

After the Juncao technology was introduced in Lesotho, many villages formed cooperatives to grow and sell mushrooms.
The Ministry of Agriculture started by selecting a team to participate in mushroom production training in South Africa and China.
Jointly working with the Ministry of Trade, it organised the team to learn about value chains between mushroom producers, cooperatives and retailing outlets for such agro-produce.

At least 15 mushroom specialists were trained on best practices in production and management using locally available raw materials.
These trained specialists passed the knowledge countrywide by training other Basotho farmers in production techniques as well as in mushroom retailing.

Former Minister of Agriculture, ’Mapalesa Mothokho, last year said she believed that mushroom farming had the potential to be industrialised and tap into international markets.
Currently, the country produces oyster mushroom South Africa, which wholly surrounds Lesotho with its over 52 million population, can be a key market.

The promotion of mushroom production comes at a time when the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), whose mandate is to develop industry, is working on levelling the ground for agro-products industrialisation.

Speaking at the Juncao Technology Expo at the Chinese Embassy last week, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Dr Nthabiseng Makoae said Lesotho has achieved a number of milestones through China-Lesotho Juncao Technology Cooperation Project.
Dr Makoae said mushroom farming and Juncao grass production under the auspices of China-aid Juncao Technology Cooperation Project can help reduce unemployment through agrobusiness.

Dr Makoae however expressed concern over the sustainability of the business, especially because the Chinese experts often leave at the end of the funding contracts of the projects. Makoae said production of mushroom nosedived when the third phase ended in 2015 because the spawns could no longer be produced.

The Chinese Ambassador to Lesotho, Dr Sun Xianghua, pledged to continue supporting mushroom farmers in the country.
“We will discuss the arrangements and details with the Ministry of Small Businesses,” Xianghua said.

Staff Reporter

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