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Mushroom: Healing balm and a hidden treasure

The plant resource is said to be available in high quantity but has remained largely untapped and unutilised. The mushroom plant is an edible fungi…

The plant resource is said to be available in high quantity but has remained largely untapped and unutilised.

The mushroom plant is an edible fungi that grow on decaying organic matter known as substrate, which could be got from agricultural waste, such as cassava stalks and peels.

Others include cocoa pods, sorghum and millet chaff, groundnut shell, oil palm residue, corn cobs, grass, sawdust and rice husks.

Outside these natural habitats, the plant can also be grown on a concrete floor which has slopes.

According to Mr Idi Audu, an engineer with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), the cultivation of mushrooms can be done on a variety of substrates.

He, however, adds that the quality of substrate will determine the success of growing mushroom as it (substrate) provides all the nutrients it will need to grow.

According to Audu, who is the project coordinator of Zuma Mushroom Growing and Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Rafin-Sanyi, near Suleja in Niger State, different strains of mushroom will require a different substrate mix.

The centre is collaboration between Zuma Cooperative Union, the RMRDC and the Irish Embassy.

Audu says that the plant starts as a very small spawn, which grows in the substrate, to produce a fine white fibrous structure called mycelium. The mycelium produces the mushroom fruit.

Mrs Joy Azuzu, an Abuja-based nutritionist, says mushroom is “well known for its high nutritional value and as a good source of vitamin B1, B2, B12 and vitamin C.

“The richest variant is the oyster mushroom, which contains essential amino acids and carbohydrates.’’

Research has confirmed that the mushroom stands out both in its nutritional and medicinal values.

It is said to contain between 19 per cent and 35 per cent high quality protein and is high in carbohydrate. This makes it ideal for diabetic patients and people prone to obesity.

Fresh edible mushroom also has very high water content of around 90 percent and also contains high concentrates of vital minerals such as phosphorus, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.

According to experts, the high fibre content of the mushroom gives it an invaluable advantage over other food items for easier and faster digestion and assimilation in the alimentary canal.

It has also been confirmed as a suitable alternative to meat in vegetarian diets.

Mr Henry Onyedika, a private medical practitioner in Gwagwalada, says mushrooms have “great healing potential on some ailments.

“That is why many pharmaceutical products and food supplements are produced from it”.

The growing of mushrooms, according to experts, requires less land area, making it a better option for farmers with small farming land.

Compared to other crops, mushrooms have the shortest gestation period of one week with the certainty of daily harvesting.

Experts speak of the plant’s potential to attract foreign exchange. They, however lament that Nigeria is yet to exploit the vast global mushroom market.

“It has the potential of generating foreign exchange in excess of 30 billion US dollar annually,’’ Audu says.

According to him, developed nations crave for the commodity and are always ready to buy any quantity available.

But while experts gradually promote the growth of mushroom, observers say that the non-availability of a reliable source of spawn — the seeds for mushrooms — is a major impediment.

They say, however that with Nigeria’s climatic conditions, the spawns could gradually be developed.

Professor Peter Onwualu, the Director General, RMRDC, believes that the cultivation of one mushroom farm can earn the country “more than N500 million annually’’.

He says that “about 30 million people in India are engaged in mushroom growing,’’ adding that the development is generating “more than 20 billion US dollars annually from export and local markets.

“The fact that more than 70 percent of Nigerian are involved in agriculture puts her at an advantage for large scale mushroom production, both for local and export markets.

“If the cultivation of mushroom is embraced nationwide, it is capable of providing employment to more than one million people”.

Globally, he says, current mushroom production is in excess of seven million metric tones per annum with a value of more than 30 billion US Dollars.

According to Onwualu, exporting countries like Poland, Ireland and China are making huge foreign exchange earnings from mushroom production.

“These countries are cumulatively exporting more than 57 per cent of the total world production output of mushrooms, while Europe remains the main consumer of white-button mushrooms with Germany importing the most.

“The mushroom market undoubtedly holds enormous potential for Nigeria as it could earn the government huge foreign exchange while processing it for both local consumption and export will generate employment for the unemployed youths,’’ Onwualu says.

According to him, it is in recognition of such potential that the RMRDC, in collaboration with the Irish Embassy, established the mushroom centre to tackle such global issues as poverty, unemployment, food security and environmental degradation.

He says it is “regrettable’’ that the mushroom potential is still in the doldrums, in spite of favorable climate conditions for its cultivation.

Onwualu blames that on “very low level of awareness on the medicinal, nutritional and export value of the crop’’.

He also blames the low patronage of the plant on some cultural factors that considered mushroom a forbidden commodity that is poisonous.

But he warns against gathering mushrooms from the wild because it could be harmful, if the substrate materials upon which they grew are poisonous.

Calling for more public education on the cultivation and consumption of mushrooms, the RMRDC boss adds that the council is targeting a cluster of growers across the 774 local government areas of the country.

Mr Amos Dauda, Secretary, Zuma Cooperative Union, says the idea of a mushroom centre was first mooted in 2005 with the first financial assistance of N1 million from the Irish Embassy as grant.

That money, he says, was used to purchase an Autoclave and a fogging system.

Dauda explains that the RMRDC came to its rescue when the project was almost abandoned for lack of funds in 2008.

Governor Muazu Babangida of Niger, supports the mushroom initiative and has called for more mushroom centres to enable Nigeria tap her potential.

Like Babangida, many analysts say that Nigeria must indeed look into hitherto untapped areas, if it is indeed serious about becoming one of the top 20 economies of the world in the year 2020.

(NANFeatures)