For the past two weeks, I have witnessed the ins and outs of Bemcom Youth Enterprises/Association (BYEA) in Techiman, Brong-Ahafo region. BYEA uses non-traditional agriculture to alleviate rural poverty. The organization serves as a training, resource and research centre that provides farmers with the essentials to start their own non-traditional agricultural venture.
BYEA trains farmers to raise small livestock (rabbit and grasscutter), snails and bees and to grow mushrooms.
BYEA employs around 15 workers from the community to produce oyster mushroom bags. Farmers trained by BYEA purchase these mushroom bags, grow the mushrooms in their own fruiting house, and sell these mushrooms at their local market. The production of mushroom bags involves several stages.
1. The spores from mushrooms are used to create spawn that will be added to the mushroom bags. This task is delegated to a trained employee who works in a room with laboratory equipment.
2. Compost of sawdust, rice bran, and lime is prepared. This process takes several weeks of watering and turning.
On Saturday, Stephen, Eric and Salis invited me to turn compost with them, and just as I was about to dig in with the shovel, they stopped me. Turning compost is much more than shoveling sawdust around; it is an art of meticulous technique and order. Luckily, they showed me the ropes before I destroyed all of the compost piles.
3. When the compost is ready, the workers pack the polyurethane bags full of sawdust and top the bags with a piece of plastic tubing and a rubber band.
4. The bags are put in metal barrels and a huge container to be sterilized with steam.
5. Once the bags have been sterilized and cooled, they are inoculated with spawn. When spawning, everything needs to be clean and sterile so that the bags do not get contaminated. The bags are lined up on tables; the tops of the bags are filled with cotton; the bottles full of spawn are broken up and placed around every 15-20 bags.
To prevent contamination, the workers spray their hands, the spawn bottles and the bags with alcohol. Then, the top of the spawn bottle (cotton, newspaper secured with a rubber band) is removed; the cotton in the mushroom bag is removed; spawn is added to the bag; and then the bag is topped with cotton. Once all the bags have been spawned, the bags are topped with newspaper.
Because I lack the strength of many of the workers, I spent most of the time in the spawning room that demands less heavy lifting
6. The spawned mushroom bags are shelved for several weeks while the mycelium grows.
7. Once the mycelium has grown throughout the bag, they are sold to customers, and mushrooms will start growing from the bags within 8-10 days.
This brief description of the mushroom bag production and of the trainings do not do justice to the immense amount of work, communication and coordination that go on everyday at Bemcom Youth Enterprises/Association.