Three years ago, British-Ghanaian Esther was so inspired by the passionate mushroom farmers she met in her native Ghana, that she decided to use her skills to help cultivate their industry.
She saw that mushrooms could be a sustainable source of income, as well as a nutritious staple. However problems with contamination and disorganised practices have made it hard for farmers to reap the benefits.
British-Ghanaian Esther secured funding from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, which is co-funded by the Department for International Development, and works with African diaspora organisations in the UK run by people of African heritage with strong emotional, cultural and political links to their country.
In 2012, Esther – from UK-based GEM Consultancy – set up a not-for-profit organization in partnership with the national association of mushroom famers in Ghana. They work to support farmers with technical training and access to fair prices for their mushrooms.
Esther was struck by the passion of local entrepreneurs and farmers she met during a volunteering trip.
She says, ‘I started to see a different part to Ghana from the holidays I took with family. I began to see it as a place to do business. I saw the potential in mushrooms.’
About 20 years ago, a widespread contamination destroyed almost 7000 mushroom farms, and the industry has been slow to recover.
Despite being a potentially lucrative practice, it was disorganised and underdeveloped. The mushroom market is fragmented, with no centralised marketing service to guarantee fair prices to producers. Training is often expensive and without co-ordinated support, fledgling farming groups have struggled to get established.
Keen to help with her business acumen, UK-based Esther wanted to turn their passion into a strong business; tackling the main barriers to mushrooms becoming a vibrant industry in Ghana.
She explains, ‘The beauty of mushrooms is that it requires little capital; no tractors or land, just a bit of space and good practice. So it can generate a good income for farmers with little assets.’
Driven by Esther’s business background and dedication to the cause, GEM consultancy has an extensive network of motivated Ghanaians both in Ghana and the UK committed to its mission to help rebuild the mushroom industry.
With support from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, co-funded by DFID, they have already produced manuals, provided loans and training to over 50 farmers at a centre where they can also sell mushrooms at a fair price. These can then be sold on to various buyers, who know the farmers’ involvement in the organisation will guarantee quality. It also offers micro-credits and record-keeping training for mushroom growers, building capacity and resulting in an increased income and an improved standard of living.
Esther is proud of their success, ‘We are already delivering to hotels, restaurants and the National School Feeding Programmes. We are even starting to talk to UK churches who operate in Ghana about using their land to grow mushrooms.’
‘I’ve seen people put their children through university because of mushroom income’, she says. ‘Helping farmers to become profitable could make things like this become more common place. It’s very exciting.’