At a time when young people are moving to towns in search of jobs, John Collins Muchiri, 28, left Nairobi to pursue farming at his rural Riamukurwe Wambugu farm in Nyeri.
Mr Muchiri embraced mushroom farming two years ago and has never looked back since.
“I have a passion for farming. I left my job as a sales person to do full time farming,” he said during an interview at his home.
Mr Muchiri also grows hot pepper and keeps dairy cows.
For the diploma in business management graduate of the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), farming is as rewarding a profession as any other.
Of the Sh25,000 received from his brother, Mr Muchiri used Sh15,000 to pay for a mushroom growing course and Sh10,000 to buy substrate, a substance used to incubate mushrooms.
He raised more money to study how to make substrate. “I raised Sh75,000 from selling goats and went for another training.
It was hard at first because there was no one to guide me on getting raw materials, equipment, and market,” he said.
Making substrate requires use of wheat straws, horse and kitchen manure, gypsum, molasses, chemicals and soil. It is also labour intensive.
The substances are mixed using a certain formula to produce desired results.
After acquiring necessary materials, Mr Muchiri built a darkroom for growing mushrooms.
The room is used to incubate mushrooms on substrate. Temperature, amount of moisture, and light are regulated to boost productivity.
Mr Muchiri has since increased the number of darkrooms to five following a rise in demand for the product.
One darkroom costs between Sh20,000 and Sh30,000 to build depending on type of construction materials used and size of the structure. A darkroom comprises of wooden sections on which substrate is placed to allow growth of mushrooms, walls are covered with polythene papers. A thermometer is placed in each room to closely monitor temperature.
It takes several weeks for mushrooms to be ready for the market. To rear one tonne of the commodity, 50 barrels of wheat straw are required. Straws are currently expensive and it is challenging to get them, Mr Muchiri said.
With 30 regular clients, he makes at least Sh3.6 million per year through selling of substrate alone.
“I get contracts from farmers to make substrate. Making one tonne of the substance costs Sh55,000 and I can make as much as five tonnes for one farmer,” he said.
He rears three types of mushrooms: button, oyster, and shiitake.
One kilogramme of button is sold at between Sh500 and Sh900 , while oyster costs between Sh300 and Sh500 per kilogramme. He incubates shiitake only on order as it is prized for its medicinal value.
Mr Muchiri said he makes between Sh15,000 and Sh20, 000 per day during harvest time.
“I want to increase the volume of substrate so that I can supply at least 200 kilogrammes of mushroom per day,” he said.
He supplies mushrooms to hotels in Nyeri, Nanyuki, Nairobi, and Mombasa as he looks forward to exporting the produce.
Mr Muchiri also educates farmers on rearing of mushrooms.
“They are delicate and prone to green mould. Ultimate care should be taken to increase productivity,” he said.
Some farmers abandon the crop after training because it is labour intensive. Mr Muchiri said that patience is the key to the success of any business. He attributed his success to support by his pastor and hotels.