Growth & Jobs | Mushroom industry sprouting in central Jamaica
More than five years ago, Pauline Smith, a returning resident of George North, near Spaldings, Manchester, founded the Network of Women for Food Security, a specially authorised society registered with the cooperatives and friendly societies. The intention was to get women in Manchester, St Elizabeth and Clarendon united to feed themselves.
Then she got the idea that she had to find a crop on which they could focus to earn an income. She was referred to Ruth Simpson, an agriculturist. They consulted with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund about several business ideas, and was told to select one on which they should focus.
They chose the cultivation of mushrooms, which are the fast-growing fruits of fungi. The choice was motivated by Smith's experience of living in Canada where mushrooms are a staple food. They have high nutritional and medicinal value and can be harvested in three days. The cultivation would also provide additional income and food for the women.
Smith said that women were earning $1,500 per day for domestic and farming work, and they realised they could earn much more from farming their own mushrooms, which is very expensive in the stores. So, if they cultivate it, then they can eat some of it. Moreover, mushroom farming is not labour-intensive, giving the farmer time to pursue other endeavours.
The idea to grow mushrooms sprouted with assistance from Food For The Poor, who donated the shell of a building from which the group could operate. Eventually, the Association of Mushroom Producers Limited, an amalgamation of several private mushroom-producing farms, was formed. Smith, a founder, is the chief executive officer, while Simpson, the marketing manager, Valerie Dixon, Alvin Dixon and Rohan Smith, too, have been around from day one.
This association is a support and lobbying organisation that seeks funding for its members.
"We have had to work really hard to keep control of that organisation and the vision of empowering poor women," Simpson said, while discussing the extremely difficult teething period that it went through.
'You can make a lot of money!'
The Association of Mushroom Producers Limited is now regarded as a social enterprise and is connected to two non-governmental organisations, USAID and Food For the Poor. USAID assisted by way of a one-year capacity-building training programme. It is an umbrella organisation that finds ways of helping social enterprises to earn money.
Part of the association's business plan is a mushroom foundation that receives 10 per cent of all the income of the association. The focus of the foundation is on farmer development and entrepreneurship in mushroom cultivation. It also is the scientific arm of the association that is concerned with the development of the production of mushroom and its value-added products.
Their mushroom cultivation is a burgeoning industry from which "you can make a lot of money" Smith said. There are big organisations that are interested in their crop, which is mainly the oyster species. Government is also excited about what the mushroom farmers are doing. The export prospects are also looking good, and the association has spent the past four months developing value-added products such as savoury foods, marinades, and cosmetics.