Cameroon’s Mushroom Growers Are Looking Beyond The Kitchen

France 24 | Grilled on a skewer, dried or processed in hair oil: Farmers in Bafoussam, western Cameroon, want to take the mushroom grown on agricultural waste beyond the kitchen.

Mushroom farming, or the cultivation of edible mushrooms, has long been developed in the West, while China has become by far the largest producer in the world.

But it remains very rare in Africa, despite the benefits of being almost free and providing ‘clean’ food by recycling waste.

Cameroonians are particularly fond of mushrooms, but have to wait for the rainy season to identify and collect the edible mushrooms in the wilds of the west-central African country.

In Bafoussam, the western region’s capital and fifth-largest city, Jean-Claude Youbi saw an opportunity to benefit like other small farmers in the nation of 28 million people.

Youbi grows thousands of oyster mushrooms in a darkened room at the Common Initiatives Group – GIC Champignon – which he and collaborators started four years ago in Maetur, a district of Bafoussam.

“We’re in the mushroom house of our GIC,” Youbi announces proudly amid the rows of mushrooms growing on shelves on plastic-bagged agricultural waste.

“Some like these are past harvest time,” says one of his associates, Patrick Yaptieu, pushing aside a bunch of mushrooms that have gone from the desired white color to a yellowish hue. He then packs the day’s good harvest into sacks and sets off for the GIC store near the city center.

A kilo of oyster mushrooms costs 2,000 CFA francs (just over three euros / $3.11) in Bafoussam, while in Yaounde, the capital, or Douala, the main port and commercial center, it costs up to 3,500 CFA francs.

– “Corn on the cob… and ox blood” –

The lack of official national data on the production and consumption of mushrooms makes it difficult to get an idea of ??the market value and scale of the sector.

There is a lot of coming and going on the premises of the GIC Champignon, while two young trainees are shoveling a pile of agricultural residues in a small adjoining room.

To get the soil-free culture, “we mixed corn on the cob with nutrients like bran meal, wheat and ox blood,” explains production manager Brice Nono Djomo.

“We added a fungicide to avoid the bad fungi,” he says, adding that the effects of this precautionary treatment wear off after two weeks, well before the good crop grows.

Once the substrate mix is ??ready, it is sterilized, placed in kegs and heated over a wood fire, then cooled and placed in plastic bags.

Once the spores are introduced, the bags are placed in the mushroom house, where it takes 30 days for the first stems to appear.

“I was amazed to discover this way of growing mushrooms,” says Junior Leogip, a 12-year-old boy who devotes his school holidays to an internship at GIC Champignon.

“I learned how to prepare the substrate… I want to know everything,” Leogip adds, and his heart burns to win a place at an agricultural college after he graduates from high school.

“My goal is to start my own production and be independent,” says Lea Tona, another trainee from Yaounde.

– “Mushroom Whiskey” –

Every three months, the time it takes for a full growth cycle, the Bafoussam company produces 300 to 400 kilos (660 to 880 pounds) of mushrooms, 80 percent of which are sold directly to customers for consumption.

The rest is turned into body and hair oils, soap, juice and even a liquor that Youbi presents as “mushroom whiskey”.

In a small laboratory at the GIC, Youbi grinds part of the harvest in a blender to obtain a juice that is combined with other elements for the range of by-products.

“For beauty oils, we can add snail slime and a perfume to create a pleasant smell,” he says, hiding his secrets from his chest.

“We are in a promotional phase. For the hair oil, we are giving some hairdressers boxes to experiment with.”

“It softens and regrows hair, it treats dandruff, breakage,” says Josiane Sogo in her hair salon.

Some people prefer to simply taste the mushrooms.

“I am a very large consumer of mushrooms, especially for their benefits. It’s a vegetable meat that helps me avoid several risks,” confirms Barthelemy Tchoumtchoua, noting that his skewer is rich in proteins and vitamins B2, B3, B5 and D.

Thanks to mushroom farming, “we can eat them all year round,” he adds enthusiastically.

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