Mushrooms are relatively new to the Kenya’s produce market but the demand is growing rapidly offering great opportunities to local agribusiness entrepreneurs willing to invest and test new business models. Nyawira Gitaka is one of them.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was in high school. I started growing flowers in my family’s backyard as a teenager. When I graduated, I wanted to do something that I could enjoy and would generate income, so I started growing strawberries with a former classmate. Then the Kenya CIC came in and with their help we started producing mushrooms.”
Helped by her business partner Mbachia Ng’ethe, Nyawira has developed a way to turn coffee pulp - one of the byproducts of the processing of coffee beans - into a great fertilizer that can be utilized to improve mushrooms cultivation and increase production volumes. Thanks to a specific fermentation reaction, coffee pulp is ‘optimized’ for agriculture use and turned into an odorless, rich ‘breeding ground’ for mushrooms. To complete the process and accelerate the production even further, Nyawira utilizes solar-wired sheds in which humidity and temperature are constantly controlled and maintained at ideal levels.
“We would like to make our oyster mushrooms available to all Kenyans”, explains Gregory Kenan, Mushroom Blue Marketing Director. “They are highly nutritious, containing vitamin B, vitamin D2, and several other nutrients that the majority of Kenyans do not get everyday.”
Even though the majority of Kenyans hasn’t fully embraced the use of mushrooms in the kitchen, the demand is growing steadily, with mushrooms being utilized as a meat substitute in the vegetarian community or as an ‘exotic’ addition to more traditional dishes. Nairobi’s growing number of high-class restaurants, hotels and resorts creates additional opportunities, especially for the production and distribution of the white oyster mushroom, a variety very popular among international chefs and tourists.
Thanks to this growing demand, Mushroom Blue is expanding with the market. Since 2013, the quantity of mushrooms sold each month has been growing exponentially, to the point that Nyawira is planning to create a local network of farmers and suppliers by franchising her patented concept. Mushroom Blue has now three full-time employees and about ten online ambassadors who promote the brand online through blogs and social media. In addition, the company has already been featured multiple times in local and national media.
The turning point in Nyawira’s entrepreneurial career was the first Proof of Concept Competition organized by the Kenya CIC in 2012. Out of 300 applicants, Nyawira and her co-founder Mbachia received a US$ 25,000 grant to develop their innovative business concept and enter the market at the right time. Moreover, the center continued to support the young firm during the initial production and commercialization phases with business advice and numerous networking opportunities, including the Climate Technology Workshop and Expo held in Nairobi last year.
“The biggest support from the Kenya CIC was the proof-of-concept grant that made us move from strawberries to mushrooms. In our minds, we knew it was going to take a long time, but with the grant we were able to make a quick switch,” says Nyawira. “We also get support in terms of networking events, facilitation to attend conferences, and information on additional funding opportunities.”
Since its launch in September 2012, the Kenya CIC has supported over 80 successful clean-tech entrepreneurs like Nyawira and Mbachia. The KCIC is part of infoDev’s Climate Technology Program (CTP), which is currently implementing a global network of innovation centers across seven other countries.