"I am deeply grateful for the support for my trip. If we can get the laboratory equipment to make spawn,  it will change the mushroom industry in Ghana.
                  Bernard Bempah

For more than twelve years Bempah has been training farmers in rabbit, grass cutter (a large rodent valued for its sweet meat), snail, honey, and oyster mushroom production at BemCom. BemCom  produces about 3,700 oyster mushroom bags a week. Bernard has built a campus with livestock houses, mushroom bag production facilities. They have already outgrown a new facility, built to hold 20,000 mushroom bags as they mature. BemCom has trained thousands of farmers and    Bernard has won recognition in Ghana and in West Africa for his work, including the highly respected Commonwealth Youth Service Award.

A woman farmer in Ghana harvests oyster mushrooms in her Women's Cooperative cropping house.
If she could buy enough bags to fill these racks, she could support her family with her mushrooms.
Shiitakes could substantially increase her income and provide income when oyster mushrooms fail.
 

A child with kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency disease
 Oyster mushrooms grown on composted sawdust seemed to be the perfect solution for protein-starved diets across Africa, where millions of children die every year from protein deficiency. The wavy-leaf-shaped mushrooms thrive in tropical climates, are 10% protein, and they can grow prolifically when they have plenty of water.  But for several years there has been a nation-wide problem with the spawn (mushroom seed) used to produce the bags.  US and Ghanaian scientists resolved the problem in 2008, but the number of growers declined,by some estimates, as much as 60% throughout Ghana. The poverty level is high, 50% in the north, and oyster mushrooms offered the hope of self-sufficiency. It's hard work, but the farmers are willing to work.                    

                                                                                                                       

The farmers are dependent on a single crop. 
Diversifying, adding a second mushroom crop makes sense economically and agriculturally. 

 

Shiitake mushroom growers Sandra and Doug Williams of Lost Creek Mushroom Farm volunteered for the OICI Farmer-to-Farmer program (www.oicinternational.org and traveled to Ghana to work with oyster mushroom growers. Partnering with 501 (c) (3)  Magical Child Foundation (www.magicalchild.org), the Williams' created Mushrooms in Ghana Project and  have brought  Bernard  Bempah and BemCom Production Manager Godwin Baokye to the US to learn shiitake mushroom production and increase their oyster mushroom and spawn production skills. Ten percent of Lost Creek Mushroom Farm log kit sales (www.shiitakemushroomlog.com ) are committed to the Mushrooms in Ghana Project. Your purchase helps the farmers, most of them women, lift themselves out of poverty. Thanks!

"Sandra: We watched a woman carry water in a pan into her half-empty cropping house. Using one hand, she scooped  up the water and tossed it into the mushrooms bags. She waters three times a day.  If she could get the bags she needs, her cropping house would hold over 1000 bags and she would be free from poverty." 

Doug read an article stating that "Where mushrooms grow in Africa, there will be no more hunger."  It could be so, but it has not turned out that way in Ghana, partly because the spawn is not available.       The Food Research Institute produces 100 units of spawn a week for all of Ghana. BemCom alone needs over 125 units to provide mushroom bags to the 3,000 farmers served by the centre. In addition: 

  • The bags are expensive to buy and are highly susceptible to breakage and contamination. The bags travel 12 hours to BemCom and another 12 hours to mushroom farms in the far north of Ghana, and a percentage of the bags arrive spoiled. Bag producers all over the country are  in shortfall for bags. Consequently, incomes for the producers and for the 5,000-7,000 oyster mushroom farmers across Ghana fall way short of their possible profits.  Over the last several years, farmers could not get enough bags and many gave up. 
  • Oyster mushrooms have a very short shelf life, 3-4 days, less in the intense heat. Most  farmers have no electricity and no refrigeration.  

                                                                           Farmers of Bonkum Women's Cooperative
 
 

Oyster bag producers are selling their bags, farmers are selling their mushrooms.  A study in the city of Wa found that people who were buying oyster mushrooms were consuming a kilo a week (2.2 lbs).  Bernard estimates that farmers are currently meeting less than 10% of consumer demand.

Sandra: "We met Michael, a very successful grower in the capital city of Accra. He had electricity and enough water pressure to spray his bags and was selling 50 kilos a day.  He made his own spawn.  Bernard Bempah has the training to produce spawn. If he had the equipment, he  could make his own oyster and shiitake spawn, increase bag production and reduce the cost, passing the savings on to the farmers."

WHY SHIITAKES?

Adding shiitake mushrooms to their production  would diversify their crops,  
increase the farmers' incomes  
and enrich the protein-hungry Ghanaian diet 


  • Shiitakes are cheaper to grow and require less labor and water than oyster mushrooms.
  • Shiitakes are high in protein, 18% (second only to meat by volume), low in fat, contain all the essential amino acids, and have significant health benefits.
  • Shiitake mushrooms can improve general health because they strengthen the immune system and contain anti-viral compounds.
  • Shiitakes grown on logs are disease resistant and can tolerate drought. 
  • Shiitakes have the familiar shape of a mushroom.
  • They have a shelf life of 2-3 weeks. 
  • When grown on hardwood logs, rather than on sawdust blocks, they are not susceptible to the types of contamination found on the oyster mushrooms.

Doug: ''In the US we grow shiitakes on oak and other hardwood logs. The whole process is organic and ecologically sound. The logs are small-diameter timber that might otherwise be burned or used for low-grade construction materials. We researched types of wood that might support shiitakes in Ghana and we look forward to a research project to determine the most effective native wood species in the Techiman area. Wood is plentiful and Bernard has been working on strategies to deter the termites that took his first two stands of  shiitake logs.'' 
 
Sandra: ''With our personal air miles and our own resources and with the generous help of our friends and local businesses, we have raised the money to bring Bernard and Godwin to the US to visit shiitake operations. We now need donations of money or equipment, to fulfill the potential for mushrooms to lift farmers out of poverty by the thousands.

 
Help for the Mushrooms in Ghana Project has already come from Frank Michael of The MushroomPeople at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee (www.mushroompeople.com).

Sandra: ''In 2007 I sent e-mails from Ghana asking growers and suppliers in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US for sources of warm-weather spawn to start Bempah's shiitake operation. Frank offered to donate the spawn and another OICI Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer carried it to Ghana.

   
                                                                                         Godwin Baokye & Bernard Bempah

                                                                       
Help for the Mushrooms in Ghana Project has already come from Frank Michael of The MushroomPeople at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee (www.mushroompeople.com).

Sandra: ''I sent e-mails from Ghana asking growers and suppliers in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US for sources of warm-weather spawn to start Bempah's shiitake operation. Frank offered to donate the spawn and another OICI Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer carried it to Ghana.

Help for the Mushrooms in Ghana Project has already come from Frank Michael of The MushroomPeople at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee (www.mushroompeople.com).

Sandra: ''In 2007 I sent e-mails from Ghana asking growers and suppliers in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US for sources of warm-weather spawn to start Bempah's shiitake operation. Frank offered to donate the spawn and another OICI Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer carried it to Ghana.

"Bernard Bempah has helped thousands of people become more self-sufficient through non-traditional farming. He is a man of vision and integrity. He's hard working and deeply committed to the BemCom motto, 'Freedom from poverty.'  The knowledge, experience, and contacts he and Godwin make on this trip will change the mushroom industry in Ghana." 

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Sandra & Doug Williams

Thank you!

       Sandra Williams packing composted sawdust into oyster mushrooms bags
with Doris and Richard at BemCom Youth Enterprises/Association in Ghana, West Africa