In response to high national demand for mushrooms, an agribusiness company in the Congo has developed easy-to-use, affordable production kits.
In the Republic of the Congo, it is now possible to grow and eat your own mushrooms all year round. Bio-Tech Congo, founded in 2015 by engineer Tsengué-Tsengué, produces and markets incubated growing kits capable of producing up to 3 kg of fresh oyster mushrooms in 3 months. Commonly known as mayebo in Lingala, and much loved by the Congolese people, oyster mushrooms were previously only available for a few months during the rainy season.
Each kit is made up of lightweight mesh bags that contain compost made of wood shavings collected from the town's carpentry workshops. The shavings are then ground down and mixed with wheat bran and ground maize. The substrate sachets are then pasteurised to destroy any micro-organisms that could prevent the mushrooms from growing. In the final step, the sachets are sown with mushroom seeds produced at the company’s small factory in Brazzaville. The incubated growing kits only require water and shade to avoid drying up, and it takes just 3-4 weeks for the first oyster mushrooms to germinate.
“It costs us less than 5,000 CFA francs (€7.60) to produce a kit,” explains Tsengué-Tsengué, who sells the cultivated mushrooms to major supermarkets and grocery stores in the Congolese cities of Brazzaville, Makoua, Owando and Pointe-Noire. Private individuals can buy incubated growing kits from Bio-tech Congo for 9,000 CFA francs (€13.70); and the company employs five full-time staff to produce around 30 kits a day. A total of 10,800 kits were produced in 2018.
Demand is high confirms regular customer, Anna Dyemo, “I was surprised to find these mushrooms [out of season] at the Casino supermarket. My husband loves them, so I went to Bio-Tech Congo's head office to buy a kit to produce them myself.” Dyemo explains that the next steps were very easy – she hung the kit in the outhouse, in the shade, so that the mushrooms and the substrate would not dry out in the sun and watered them two to three times a day. Dyemo says she soon had her first mushroom crop, which she ate with fish, meat or moambé, a sauce made from palm nut. She says purchasing a new kit just once every 3 months has saved money on buying mushrooms from the supermarket. Not only that, but the oyster mushroom is a very good source of vitamin B (particularly vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B9).
The Bio-Tech Congo kits are gaining traction in the Republic of the Congo, with the company exporting more than 500 kits every month to the capital, Kinshasa, on the other side of the Congo River. To help supply the city of 12 million inhabitants, a partnership has been signed between Bio-Tech Congo and Kinshasa’s Institut supérieur de techniques appliquées (Higher Institute of Applied Techniques) in order to train students in mushroom production.
Tsengué-Tsengué is also planning to penetrate the market in neighbouring Gabon and, in March 2019, three students from the country began following a video conference course on mushroom growing, delivered by Tsengué-Tsengué at a cost of 300,000 CFA francs (€458). The goal is to make these much-loved mushrooms available to all consumers in West Africa.