We Will Assist Nigeria Unlock Economic Potentials Of Mushroom Farming—–Awunor
In this interview with THE COMMERCE AFRICA MAGAZINE, the first elected President of the Mushroom Growers and Processors Association of Nigeria, Chief Mike Awunor speaks on the challenges facing mushroom farmers, the potentials of the sector and how the government can assist to enable the association unlock the huge potentials of the sector. EXCERPTS…
You are a man of many achievements, for the purpose of our readers, who is Chief Mike Awunor?
I’m a simple man, I’m from Delta state and I’m the pioneer president and also the president all these associations like the Nigeria Mali chamber of commerce and industry, Nigeria Uganda Chamber of Commerce and Industry I created them and brought them into the country.
You are the first elected President of the Mushroom Growers and Processors Association of Nigeria, what are you bringing to the table for the Association?
My wealth of experience in the international arena, my wealth of experience in management, my wealth of experience in organizations that’s what I’m bringing and it’s working well for the association.
As a man who has travelled far and wide there are so many things we need to know and need to hold if you’re running an association like the association of mushroom growers and those qualities and qualifications is what I have and it’s what I’ve brought in and it’s paying off
The Association is having its national conference between June 22 and 24 this year, what specific objectives is the conference targeted at achieving?
Well let me inform you that it’s not just a conference it’s summit and we’re organizing this summit with about 14 MDAs namely FMITI which is our supervising ministry , Federal Ministry of Agriculture, NFDAC, Raw Material Research and to mention just a few.
The primary objective is to chart a way forward for the mushroom industry along its value chain, Mushroom is a product that is yielding about $4.5bn in the international market, we’re working to get a grip of that market even if it’s just ten per cent of the market that would yield a lot of money and that’s what we’re working on.
Mushroom has a lot of nutritional and pharmaceutical values, yet Nigeria as a country is not taking advantage of this potentials, what do you think is responsible for this?
Ignorance, lack of knowledge, you know mushroom is a product known to all and yet unknown. Growing up some of us ate mushrooms as alternative to meat without knowing the full benefits, somewhere along the line mushroom disappeared, back then only poor people go to the farm to look for mushroom, every part of Nigeria have their own specific type of mushroom that grow in their area.
These mushrooms give nutrients to people and the community at large unknowingly no wonder our forefathers lived healthy but this present generation people no longer live in the village.
If I’m allowed to bring some comic relief here I would say mushroom didn’t like the way we treated it, mushroom knew it wasn’t actually meant for the poor so mushroom left Nigeria and went to Asia where some countries in Asia worship mushroom as a deity, as a goddess even China see mushroom as a goddess too and they don’t do anything without mushroom even Philippines too. People started using mushroom to make drugs, drugs like high blood pressure drugs, diabetic drugs and so on.
Now Asians are bringing back to us and we are buying it and only those who have money can buy it, it was repackaged and now you can get a can of mushroom for about N5, 000. If you want to eat mushroom now you have to go to five star hotels if you go to two star or even three star hotels you won’t find it there; why because it’s expensive.
Mushroom is now eaten by the elites , all those things are what the association is here to correct that mushroom can not only give us nutrient, it can also help our economy, it’s can help create jobs, help the GDP, these are some of the things the association is about
Now bringing all the MDAs to join us in this summit where every segment will come together , I was in Biotechnology the other day they’ve been on a mushroom research for the past 30 years now, how has it affected you and I? Because the results of research are kept in the shelves, we are here to say no it shouldn’t be kept in the shelves, bring it let’s work together.
This summit is going to help us come to the knowledge the potentials of mushroom and that’s our target.
Recently, the Mushroom Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria said it is targeting to earn about ten percent of the global mushroom market which is estimated at $45.3bn, what specific steps are being taken to achieve this target?
One of those steps is to sensitize the people, if you sensitize the people and people know what they can gain farming mushroom, it becomes easier for everyone to farm mushroom.
First of all, with good knowledge people will come into the market because one of the problems of commodity association is no market. When people produce, they tend to create an association and begin to produce before looking for market. We first looked for the market before we started looking for the production, this is the difference and that’s the magic.
Mushroom takes about 3-4 months to complete a circle and when you complete a circle and you’re making about 24 per cent to 30 per cent of your investments in 3-4 circles. Let us take the longer arm 4 months, meaning that in a year you can do 3 circle so that’s means you’re getting 25 per cent to 30 per cent of your investments three times in a year.
The risk is very minimal if you follow the rare protocol production because the greatest risk for farmers now is herdsmen, you can do it in your house it has its own construction plan it has it own type of planting activities and the loss is very minimal too.
When you’re done farming you take it to the market to sell and where is the market? The association is the market because what we’ve done is to create off-takers who will be off-taking these products and just recently we started working with the women food sellers association of Nigeria and we are planning to achieve a lot with them.
Their members are more than thousands. So, if we get each member to get at least a kilo of mushroom, for example if 100 of their members get a kilo that’s 100 kilo per day multiply it by 10 days , the market is enormous, that’s where we’re targeting.
We are also going to sensitize people about the international market so that a lot of people can see mushroom as a viable option and go into its cultivation so that we can get enough of it to export with our population, imagine we 10 per cent of our population goes into mushroom farming, that’s a minimum of 20 million people.
The 20 million people can produce 10 million kilos, and sell to the international market that can generate up to $4.5bn it could be more but it can’t be less. So these are the things we’re doing we want to take it from the grassroots that’s why we want local government chairmen to be part of this summit and everybody too so they can see the potentials of Mushroom farming.
One thing is to have target, another is to get the much needed support from the government. To what extent is the government supporting the Mushroom sector to be a revenue earner for the country considering the potential of the sector in the area of job creation and poverty reduction?
Well you have to tell your story and tell it convincingly for people to believe you. The government is trying because they put this association together, and through the FMITI assisted the association to stand. They’ve done very well by coming together with us through the MDAs to me that’s a very big support.
But now, we need funding, and at the end of the summit together we’re going to be able to agree on a certain ground that we’re going to be presenting to the government and that would be the beginning of a new story of mushroom.
What specific support would the association require from government to grow the Mushroom sector?
Funding, we need money for training, to sensitize and like you know an investor at every point on time would want to minimize cost. I just got back from travelling round about six states it cost me a lot, the money that I spent flying and lodging in an hotel I can use it to start a mushroom farm.
So these are the areas the government should come to the aid of our association and other associations that are also facing challenges of funding. The government has to do more and make loans available for farmers which the association can guarantee that you give us certain amount which will be returned with guarantee that section can be done, that hasn’t happened yet but we’re trying to convince them
Mushroom has the potential to positively change the unemployment situation in Nigeria and increase non-oil sector, how many jobs can be created by this sector for the economy and how can this be done?
We’re talking about creation of jobs, with mushroom this might sound very loud but mushroom can create up to 10 million jobs per annum in all it value chain.
And I’ll tell you why from the production of what we call the spurns to what we call the fruiting bags, to the building of the mushroom house where we have carpenters and bricklayers do their thing, to harvesting to drying to now begin to add value to the mushroom, we have the bakers, the food sellers who’ll begin to make mushroom soups and all sorts to the bakers who’ll bake mushroom bread down to marketers who’ll market dry and fresh mushroom and it is real not fabricated
Funding is one of the challenges facing farmers and other businesses in Nigeria; in what ways can the sector be better funded to achieve the much needed objectives of creating jobs and earning revenue for the country?
I’ve said it before, when we were growing up there was something they called catch them young, now we’re saying take them off the streets. If you want to develop what we call cluster farming, you can bring 20 people give them a loan of about N5m to N10m, we can help them develop their farm, help them produce and even help them sell and refund the government money in no time. That’s on the other hand.
Like I said before, they need to help the association carry out a lot of sensitization like this summit that is coming up now we haven’t received any funding from anybody we’re doing this all by ourselves. We know they’ll come but we are pleading with them to come fast so they don’t come when the game is over, money to me is relevant when it comes at the time of need.
What advice do you have for Nigerians as regards embracing Mushroom cultivation?
My advice is that a trial will convince you. Put in your small amount of money and see how it will turn around. Remember the health aspect nothing boost the immune system like mushroom. It’s been proven. So put a little money and it doesn’t even take space, with a small portion of your land you can do wonders with it try it and you’will thank me later