The Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the JUNCAO Technology team recently conducted the 34th training on mushroom farming at the JUNCAO training centre in Legalega, Nadi.
Forty-two participants sponsored by the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) Fiji are part of the two-day training.
These participants include tour managers from the hotel industry that had recently been laid off work, organic farmers, and interested stakeholders.
Permanent Secretary for Agriculture Mr. Ritesh Dass while addressing the participants via a Zoom conference meeting said there was a need for more farmers to venture into mushroom farming to increase production.
“Currently there are nine active producers in Fiji, six in the Central Division, and three in the Western Division selling fresh mushroom from $12 to $25 per kilogram,” said Mr. Dass.
Fiji imports 124 metric tonnes of mushroom worth $0.9million annually. There is an existing demand for the commodity, which is increasing in popularity in local markets, namely supermarkets, restaurants, and within the tourism sector.
“Most edible mushrooms sold in Fiji are imported as fresh, canned, and dried. Some mushroom varieties sold locally are Button, Enoki, Oyster, and Shitake while the two viable mushrooms growing successfully in Fiji are Grey Oyster and medicinal mushroom,” said Mr Dass.
“Mushrooms are filled with beneficial nutrition which creates lots of opportunities for farmers to venture into. Mushrooms are gradually getting recognition in the Fijian market as studies on mushroom consumption suggest a healthy immune system and lower chance of getting Non-Communicable Diseases thus creating a high demand for fresh mushrooms from health-conscious consumers.”
The JUNCAO technology team has so far trained 1,500 local technicians with 33 training workshops conducted throughout the country. The trainees are provided with free mushroom tubers and JUNCAO cuttings to set up smallholder units.
Ms Kelera Mataitka, 38 year old Architecture Graduate said she was interested in learning about mushrooms as it complemented the knowledge gained from her recently completed Master studies in Architecture in Japan.
“Part of my research was working with mycelium in trying to develop building products. I heard about this mushroom workshop, got in touch with Ministry of Agriculture, and here I am,” she said.
Ms Mataika said mushroom was easy to grow, highly nutritious, with a high market value. Mr Poasa Nauluvula, 54 year old of Wailoko, Sabeto was a tour manager before COVID-19 hit the tourism industry. Attending the workshop was a chance for him to explore mushroom farming as an alternative source of income.
“I sincerely hope this training will help me. We have just tried mushroom cooking and its very tasty and very easy to cook.
“Mushrooms are also one of the ways we can be healthy. With obesity being one of the main problems in Fiji, I think eating mushrooms can cure obesity and stay young, I guess,” Mr Nauluvula said.
Mrs Rajnesh Lata Charan, 52 year old Lautoka businesswoman thanked the Ministry of Agriculture for the training, adding, she was ready to begin with her mushroom farming.
“I was doing very well with my consultancy until COVID-19 hit. So I am definitely looking at multiple sources of income, and I saw this opportunity through FRIEND,” she said.
Mrs Charan said with her extensive experience in the sugar industry together with her keen interest in farming and gardening, she realised that agriculture was the way forward for Fiji.
Since 2017, a total of 37,388 free mushroom substrate tubes were given to 113 farmers and stakeholders. Tuber distribution is free from the JUNCAO Centre at Legalega and production figures for productive farmers indicate ranges from 300 to 500 tubers being produced per month.