10 Reasons Not To Ignore Rural Mushroom Production

Rural Mushroom Production
10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Rural Mushroom Production

Make Money In Rural Areas While You Sleep Growing Mushrooms!

These are the main reasons why there is a growing interest in wild rural mushroom production and harvest to make money in rural areas.

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Rural mushroom production has hundreds of identified species of fungi which, makes a significant global contribution to healthy food, food security, medicine and income.

Purpose Of This Guide For Rural Mushroom Production

This post highlights the many opportunities to, and benefits of, increasing food and income security through incorporating mushroom into livelihood strategies.

This post recognizes the valuable contribution that wild edible fungi make to the livelihoods of rural people in both tropical and temperate zones.

It is estimated that the total number of useful fungi with edible and medicinal value is over 2300 species.

This is a result of the increased recognition of the nutritional value of many species, coupled with the realization of the income generating potential of fungi through trade.

In addition, where knowledge about wild fungi is not passed on within families or throughout communities, people have become more reluctant to wild harvest and prefer to cultivate mushrooms instead.

10 Reasons Why Rural Mushroom Production Is A Great Business

There are over 200 fungi, which contain species of use to people.

Twelve species are commonly grown for food and/or medicinal purposes including the common mushroom:

  • Shiitake
  • Oyster
  • Straw
  • Lion’s Head or Pom Pom
  • Ear
  • Ganoderma
  • Maitake
  • Winter
  • White jelly
  • Nameko
  • Shaggy Mane.

Commercial markets are dominated by white button, shiitake and oyster, which represent three quarters of mushrooms cultivated globally.

2. Edible Mushrooms Are Known To Have Medicinal Properties

Medicinal Value

Recently, there has been a spectacular growth in, and commercial activity associated with, dietary supplements, and other products that are superfoods (more than just food).

Medicinal fungi have routinely been used in traditional Chinese medicine.

3. Huge Contribution To Rural Livelihoods

Rural mushroom cultivation can help reduce vulnerability to poverty and strengthen livelihoods through the generation of a fast-yielding and nutritious source of food and a reliable source of income.

Since it does not require access to land, mushroom cultivation is a viable and attractive activity for both rural farmers and urban dwellers.

Small-scale growing does not include any significant capital investment:

  • Mushroom substrate can be prepared from any clean agricultural waste material, and mushrooms can be produced in temporary clean shelters.
  • They can be cultivated on a part-time basis, and require little maintenance.
  • Indirectly, mushroom cultivation also provides opportunities for improving the sustainability of small farming systems through the recycling of organic matter, which can be used as a growing substrate, and then returned to the land as fertilizer.
  • Through the provision of income and improved nutrition, successful cultivation and trade in mushrooms can strengthen rural livelihood assets, which can not only reduce vulnerability to shocks, but enhance an individual’s and a community’s capacity to act upon other economic opportunities.

4. Income Benefits

Mushroom cultivation activities can play an important role in supporting the local economy by contributing to subsistence food security, nutrition, and medicine; generating additional employment and income through local, regional and national trade; and offering opportunities for processing enterprises (such as pickling and drying).

Income from mushrooms can supplement cash flow, providing either:

  • Safety net during critical times, preventing people falling into greater poverty;
  • Budget gap-filling activity which can help spread income and generally make poverty more bearable through improved nutrition and higher income; or
  • Stepping stone activity to help make people less poor, or even permanently lift them out of poverty.

5. Marketing Mushrooms

Harvested mushrooms need to be carefully handled and should be kept in a container that allows for air circulation, such as a basket, and care needs to be taken to prevent bruising.

The baskets containing mushrooms should be covered to keep flies out and protected from sunlight, high temperatures and draughts.

High quality mushrooms that are healthy and clean fetch the best market price.

Harvested mushrooms should be taken to market without delay in order to maintain their freshness and quality, or stored in a refrigerated environment or processed.

Getting fresh specimens to market is considerably difficult, both for wild fungi and cultivated mushrooms.

The physical appearance of fruiting bodies is obviously important and customer preferences must be observed.

Some species discolor if the gills or cap are damaged and they must be handled with care.

Depending on the soil where the fungi grow, some preliminary cleaning of gills and gaps may be needed to remove particles.

Picking fruiting bodies at the correct stage of development is important.

As they mature, some species become woody.

Flexibility in selecting a growing system is important.

In some rural areas, mushroom growing ventures are started with white button mushrooms.

However, button mushrooms need horse manure in the substrate, but this is not available in some areas, so an alternative is oyster mushrooms that can grow on locally available materials.

6. Financial Assets

Mushroom cultivation is attractive for the resource-poor for two reasons.

Firstly, because mushroom cultivation can be done on any scale, the initial financial outlay to establish a basic cultivation system need not be great, and substrate materials are often free.

For example, a mushroom house large enough to hold 1000 mushroom bags can be built for less than $15 USD utilizing the materials available locally.

Secondly, compared to many agricultural and horticultural crops, mushroom production systems have a short turn around; a harvestable crop can be produced and sold within two to four months, which is very helpful for small-scale producers.

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7. Key Steps In Mushroom Production

The basic concept in mushroom cultivation is to start with some mushroom spores.

The spores grow into mycelium and expand into a mass sufficient in volume and stored up energy to support the final phase of the mushroom reproductive cycle.

The result is the formation of fruiting bodies or mushrooms.

The key generic steps in mushroom production, which is a cycle that takes between one to three months from start to finish depending on species, are:

  • Identifying and cleaning a dedicated room or building in which temperature, moisture and sanitary conditions can be controlled to grow mushrooms in;
  • Choosing a growing medium and storing the raw ingredients in a clean place under cover and protected from rain;
  • Pasteurizing or sterilizing the medium and bags in which, or tables on which, mushrooms will be grown (to exclude other fungi that would compete for the same space, once the selected fungi has colonized the substrate it can fight off the competition);
  • Seeding the beds with spawn (spores from mature mushrooms grown on sterile media);
  • Maintaining optimal temperature, moisture, hygiene and other conditions for mycelium growth and fruiting, which is the most challenging step; adding water to the substrate to raise the moisture content since it helps ensure efficient sterilization;
  • Harvesting and eating, or processing, packaging and selling the mushrooms;
  • Cleaning the facility and beginning again.

8. Spawn And Inoculation

Mushroom spawn is purchased from specialist mushroom spawn producers, and there are several types or strains of spawn for each type of mushroom.

It is not generally advisable for mushroom growers to make their own spawn because of the care needed to maintain the quality of spawn in the production process.

Spawn is produced by inoculating a pasteurized medium, usually grain, with the sterile culture (grown from spores) of a particular mushroom species.

The cheapest cultivation system using composted substrate is one where mushrooms are grown in plastic bags, which can be sterilized and re-used with new substrate containing substrate or compost, in a simple building to provide controlled growing conditions.

Bottles can also be used, and in other indoor low-cost systems wooden trays of different sizes can be arranged in stacks to provide a useful cultivating space.

Spawn is added to the sterilized/pasteurized substrate under hygienic conditions, in an enclosed space, and mixed thoroughly to ensure that the mushroom mycelium grows evenly throughout the substrate.

Farmers with limited resources can overcome the need to purchase spawn each time a new crop is put down by removing a portion of the substrate colonized by the mushroom spawn from the new crop and using it for spawning the following crop.

However, care must be taken to remove only healthy, uninfected substrate colonized fully by the mushroom spawn.

9. Maintaining Suitable Growing Conditions

The inoculated substrate is put into bags, trays, etc. and transferred to an enclosed and darkened room or building to incubate for a period of up to 12 weeks, depending on the variety of mushroom.

If space is limited, plastic bags can be suspended in darkened rooms.

Humidity levels are important for the mycelium to colonize over the next two weeks, so water needs to be available, and the temperature controlled accordingly to the variety of mushroom.

The crop should be protected from sunlight and strong winds at all times, which can cause the mushrooms to dry out.

Humidity can be maintained in the growing room by hanging wet rags at several points around the walls, or watering the floor.

Temperature can be regulated by a fire, (electric if available) and cooling could be assisted by using a table fan blowing over a container of water, and air circulating between the sacks should help assist with temperature regulation.

It is essential to maintain hygienic conditions over the general cropping area, in order to protect the crop from contamination.

10. Harvesting Cultivated Mushrooms

The transition from fully-grown mycelium to produce mushroom fruiting bodies normally requires a change in the environmental conditions, such as temperature decrease and ventilation and humidity increase.

Mushrooms fruit in breaks or flushes, and the type and size of mushrooms harvested depend on the type of mushrooms grown and market demand.

Mushrooms should be harvested according to market demand.

For example, there may be a price premium for small button mushrooms.

Generally mushrooms are harvested by hand using sterilized knives to cut the ones that are ready.

Pickers should be trained to recognize the appropriate stage for harvesting and be consistent in when the mushrooms are cropped.

Handling such a perishable crop should be kept to a minimum to reduce the risk of damage.


Mushroom cultivation can make a valuable contribution to sustainable livelihoods for both rural and urban poor, because they are highly compatible with other livelihood activities, requiring minimal physical and financial inputs and resources, to be undertaken successfully.

Furthermore, it represents an ideal activity for older people, those in poor health, and also people with physical and mental disabilities.

Mushrooms can be cultivated on both a small and large scale to allow for personal consumption, provision of a supplemental or principal income source, or the start of a commercial enterprise.

Indeed, the basic requirements center on an identified source for purchasing spores, access to suitable substrate and the means to sterilize it, some bags and a clean, dark room to cultivate in.

For people interested in experimenting, the range in types of mushrooms and cultivation techniques can prove challenging and gratifying.

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