Oukumwe mushroom project
Situated in Luderitz, a coastal town of Namibia, the Oukumwe Support Group Mushroom Project has developed production methodologies for the cultivation of oyster mushroom, which is among the crops that have been successfully adapted to the coastal environment. The project is supported by the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Programme (GEF SGP) and implemented by UNDP. Currently there are 20 members of whom the majority are women living positively with HIV, who initially came together to form an HIV support group, and later ventured into the Mushroom Cultivation project as a team. The Oukumwe Support Group aims to empower its members on the cultivation of oyster mushroom as part of poverty alleviation and income generation.
- Currently there are 20 members of whom the majority are women living positively with HIV, who initially came together to form an HIV support group, and later ventured into the Mushroom Cultivation project as a team.
Mushroom farming is a viable cottage agricultural activity because it requires minimal investment, and has a very short growth period. Mushrooms are highly nutritious, containing high quality protein that has a great amino acid balance, in addition to vitamins and most trace elements. Their cultivation and consumption would thus enhance a better nutrition status and also boost the body’s immune-response system. The mushroom seeds at the project centre are made from wheat grains and mahangu. The fertilized seeds are kept in a separate house called the darkroom, to ensure humidity this house is lined with black plastic sheet on the ceiling and the floor is also lined with black plastic and kept wet with water at all time. The project uses chopped straws that are moistened with water then placed in nylon bags as a growing medium for the spawn. The plastic bags are first pasteurized for 3 hours in a steaming drum, thereafter they are left overnight to soak in water, before the excess water is removed. They are inoculated by spreading spawn in the bag on the surface of the substrate. Inoculated bags are kept in a dark room for incubation. Once the substrates are completely colonized by the mycelium, the fully colonized are then cut open on the sides and watered three times a day to stimulate fruit production.
The project members plan to market the cultivated mushroom in and outside Luderitz and the surplus will be given to the project members for their own nutritional needs. The profit from the mushroom produce serves as an alternative source of income to the project members of Oukumwe Support Group. One of the few male project members is the 26 year old Josia Kakololo, who due to a minor disability on his hands could not get a job after completing secondary school. Josia helps the project with the maintenance of the dark room, in which the fertilized mushroom seeds are kept. Although he does not receive monetary payment the project has kept him occupied, he gained new skills and understanding of mushroom cultivation. The project also provides meals once a day to all the members. Josia further says that working with the Oukumwe Support Group has increased his self-confidence and he is inspired to learn everyday with every opportunity he gets.
In addition, the project receives a range support including counselling, food rations and availing of administrative support from Sea Flower Fishing PTY/LTD at which most of the Mushroom Project members are employed. According to the Project Coordinator Ms. Elizabeth Shiyagaya, before the project started the company had been losing more than 20 employees in a year due to a lack of nutritional meals and support structure, equally the organization had a very high level of absenteeism but as the project progressed the number of deaths had tremendously decreased to 1 death per year whilst the number of employees missing work has declined. Recently the members received training on Oyster Mushroom Cultivation on which they all received certificates upon successful completion. At the certificate ceremony Ms. Julia Maiba, a Peer Councillor as well as a project member says the project has been a wonderful platform for these women living positively with HIV to encourage each other and to form a strong support network. The mushroom project will continue to provide opportunities for HIV affected community members through self employment as a result leading to sustainable livelihood.