Agriculture

Pungwe Produce : a new mushroom production technology for smallholder farmers

Written by Wadzanai Chimhepo

Tell us a few words about the founders and how the idea came

The idea which resulted in the formation of Pungwe Produce, a company that specializes in mushroom production, came to be after the realization that Zimbabwe heavily relied on mushroom imports from neighbouring countries.

Further research into this matter revealed that the over-reliance on important mushroom was a result of the nascence of serious mushroom producers in the country. Secondly, the few that were producing used seasonal agricultural residue such as wheat straw and cotton husks for substrate. This also made mushroom production seasonal and a function of other crops’ production. The dependency on other agricultural produce meant it was nonstarter for some regions which could not wheat and cotton, to produce mushroom. Against this background, the founder (Wadzanai Chimhepo) decided to start producing mushroom using elephant grass, a perennial and non-evasive grass as a basal substrate. Many different substrate formulas have been tested since the inception of the pilot to test the ability of elephant grass to produce mushroom.

The passion for sustainable livelihoods and community participation has led Wadzanai to invite smallholder farmers and train them in mushroom production with the intention of contracting them as mushroom producers in a participatory development model.

Now that the pilot period has come to an end, we are now working towards scaling up and commercial launch of the project. Further to this, plans are underway to rope in the third and final pillar of sustainability; the environment. Plans to install a biogas digester are on paper. This biogas digester will use Spent Mushroom Substrate (SMS) as bio-slurry to produce biogas and bio-fertilizer for use in our elephant grass fields.

Your products and services 

  1. Pungwe Produce Fresh Oyster Mushroom (Caps only / Whole mushroom)
  2. Pungwe Produce Parboiled, Sun Dried Oyster Mushroom
  3. We also provide value-added services which include, amongst others, financing, insurance and agricultural technical services. To this end, we have trained and capacitated 76 smallholder farmers in the production of mushroom. We look forward to increasing the provision of technical services to our out-grower farmers.
  4. Biogas and later electricity
  5. Pungwe bio-fertilizer

Your success factors 

The involvement of smallholder farmers will go a long way in increasing mushroom output to 2 ton per week.

Access to capital expenditure for both smallholder farmers and Pungwe Produce Operations is critical.

Continuous Research and Development is pertinent to improving substrate formulae and Biological Efficiency to 100 – 150%

Investment in more oyster production houses for Pungwe Produce.

Your factors differentiating and disruptive compared to the existing 

Unlike the other mushroom producers, the use of elephant grass as a basal substrate enables Pungwe Produce oyster mushroom all year round. We have constant supply of mushroom to our customers as compared to those who rely availability of agricultural residue.

Elephant grass as a basal substrate has a higher yield and better quality due to its rich cellulose and lignin content.

Working with smallholder and developing the mushroom value chain enables us to supply more to the market.

Setting up a biogas digester at our mushroom farm and subsequently, for smallholder farmers will go a long way in averting the e rampant cutting down of trees for fuel in the communities.

Your business model

We make money through selling mushroom produces by smallholder farmers and our production and operations department.

We also make money through providing value-added service to smallholder farmers such as financing and insurance.

We also sell inputs, inoculated ready to fruit bags and excess biogas / electricity and bio fertiliser.

A few words about your competitors

Most of the existing producers use rudimentary methods to produce mushroom. These methods are not consistent with commercial mushroom production. Yes competitors may try to imitate but we intend to ensure that we invest in machinery and to patent our substrate formulae, which gives us competitive advantage for a very long time.

 

About the author

Wadzanai Chimhepo

Wadzanai Chimhepo is a Development Economist who has over 5 years’ experience covering a wide range of portfolios ranging from Business Development Services to Local Economic Development, Research and Governance. Wadzanai is a versatile professional with knowledge in social science research, socio – economic analysis and conflict management. She is a dedicated, professional who is results driven and derives satisfaction from hard work and continuous research and learning. Her main thrust is in qualitative methodologies mostly Feminist and Participatory Research. She also has keen interest in research that advances gender equality. Wadzanai also has keen interest in Resource Governance; she has published an article in BUWA entitled Women and Mining: A Case of Golden Crumbs. She has analysis and trouble shooting skills that un-earth the root cause of any problem and develops effective solutions. Wadzanai has excellent analytical, interpersonal and negotiation skills which give her an added advantage on the job. She also has proven ability to take initiative, manage and complete tasks to the highest standards, with a meticulous attention to detail. Above all Wadzanai is reliable team player, known for delivery, with excellent communication (both oral and writing) skills.

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