“Don’t just sit with your arms crossed, wondering what to do, and seeing only difficulties. Take challenges as opportunities, be creative and donÅLt be scared to do anything.”

By Maia Gedde

Mimi Denyse is an enterprising young woman. She is an employee (Branch Manager of the Youth Bank COJAD), a member of a cooperative (working with mushrooms) and has just started her own business (a local store) in her hometown of Nyamata.

Mimi shares the story of their mushroom cooperative. “I was part of a group of ten. We wanted to create some financial opportunities for ourselves so we started the cooperative in 2008. I was 25 at the time and had just started studying management at Kigali Independent University.” Each of us invested 200,000 RWF to start the business. They discussed ideas, and mushrooms won. “Bugesera is dry. We needed something that didn’t need much rain, didn’t need much space but had high yields and market potential. Mushrooms offer all of this” Mimi says. Mushroom Cooperative Bugesera District (MUCOBU) was established.

Although it is not a traditional crop, the government is encouraging growing of mushrooms as an affordable source of protein, preventing children from getting kwashiorkor. The cooperative started by growing mushrooms, but soon realized that there was also a high demand for the specialized tubes in which the mushrooms grow. “In 2010 we applied for and received a grant from World Vision which enabled us to buy the equipment we needed to produce mushroom tubes.

They also trained us in management of cooperatives, writing business plans…etc. The District gave us a plot of land and the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), with support from the Chinese, helped us to purchase the machines from China and gave us technical training.”

The World Vision grant allowed them to purchase three machines to produce the mushroom tubes: a grinder, a mixing machine and filling machine. The first grinds straw from rice or wheat and the second mixes this in with lime powder, urea, and rice bread.

The third packs this mushroom food into round tubes, which then go through a sterilization process, before passing through the inoculation boxes, where mushroom spores are added. By growing mushrooms in this way, rather than in the conventional sacks, yields are much higher.

The cooperative now employs a full time technical manager and an accountant, along with casual labourers when they have a high volume of orders.

“We now sell both the fresh mushroom and the tubes for production. We sell the tubes to other farmers, but also to individuals who want to grow mushrooms at home. Mimi explains how the mushrooms are grown; the mushroom tube is placed in damp soil in a humid shaded place. One tube – costing less than 500RWF – will produce mushrooms for around three months on a daily basis, over 3 kg of mushrooms, with a retail value of over 6,000RWF.

Although this is a good business, marketing is still a challenge for the cooperative. Presently, they rely on word of mouth but realize they need a marketing team to reach out to the wider market. “We are known as one of the few places to buy mushroom tubes, but we sell fewer mushrooms.

We would like to establish relationships with hotels and supermarkets to become their regular supplier” Mimi says. The challenge with a cooperative is that no one is able to respond quickly and take decisions on their own. “We all have other jobs and are very busy. If you put in more time, you don’t necessarily get more returns. We are now exploring how we can overcome this.” One advantage of being in a cooperative is that there is much more support available to you than as an individual.
“The machines we have would have been prohibitively expensive without the grant. But anyone can start growing their own mushrooms, either for their own consumption or as a business. You will quickly double your money,” she says encouragingly.

Mimi has this to say to other women, “In business, don’t get discouraged by men who appear to be assertive and make decisions pretty fast. You are just as capable as they are. Women tend to think through decisions more carefully, and are actually better in business. Trust your decisions, speak out and go for it” she says.

“Don’t just sit with your arms crossed, wondering what to do, and seeing only difficulties. Take challenges as opportunities, be creative and don’t be scared to do anything. If you don’t have the means, you can get together and do something with shared resources. Just get started, something good will come out of it.”

If you are interested in growing your own mushrooms or buying in bulk from the cooperative, you can contact Mushroom Cooperative Bugesera (MUCOBU) on 0788403957

[email protected]

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