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Mushrooms in Ghana
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 Lost Creek
 Mushroom Farm
 POB 520
 Perkins,OK 74059


September, 2007.   

Our Volunteer Organization - OICI 

The Mushrooms in Ghana Project Home Page

We are back on the farm after seven weeks in Ghana. It was the rainy season with temps in the 70s and only a little rain (usually a lot of rain! which came later with massive flooding), while back in Oklahoma, our pond filled with heavy rains and summer heat at  105 degrees F.   

We were on a Volunteer assignment in Ghana, West Africa.  We were invited to join the Farmer-to-Farmer program through OICI, Opportunities Industrialization Centers International, an organization that finds alternative agricultural entrepreneurs, resource scientists and small-business consultants and matches them with African organizations requesting help in those specific areas.  Founded in 1970 by Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, OIC was a national organization that stretched to Africa, providing vocational skills training to Blacks. Its mission is to improve the lives of disadvantaged people through training and sustainable organizational development. 

While we were there, we met other OICI volunteers: Dr. Patrick Ogbakwe, a horticulturist from Mississippi working with hot peppers. He introduced value-added products, such as pepper sauce and pickled peppers. We also met with Dr. Omon from the University of North Carolina, a mushroom specialist who works often in Africa developing mushroom cultures and helping with production problems. A professor of business management had preceded us and taught record-keeping, did a financial and organizational analysis of Jerusalem Farms and helped them develop and cooperative.  OICI is an impressive organization and we were fully supported in every way throughout our projects. 

We had two assignments. The first was about ten days with Bemcom, a mushroom training and livestock production training facility, and the second three weeks with Jerusalem Farms.

(Bempah is on the back row, second from the right.


Bemcom Youth Association/Enterprises (BYEA) in Techiman, Brong Aahafo Region. Mr. Bernard Bempah, Director. 

BYEA trains farmers in beekeeping, grass cutter (a large rodent with sweet meat), snail (very large, with tough meat, high in protein), rabbit and oyster mushroom production.

He trains about 500 people a year, mostly women, to grow oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) in bags of composted sawdust. They sell to people in their own and neighboring villages.  

The sawdust is scooped by hand into rubberized bags and compacted by pounding with a soda bottle or a bottle-shaped wooden mallet. A neck of 1.5 inch poly pipe is placed on the bag and secured with a tiny rubber band. About 300 bags a day are sterilized by steaming them in 55 gallon barrels over open fire. After they cool, the bags to go the Inoculation Room where pellets of spawn, growing on sorghum seeds, are poured into the neck openings. The bags go to an incubation room where the spawn runs completely through the sawdust and is ready to fruit. The bags are sold to the out-farmers who make can a living growing oyster mushrooms and selling them locally.   

Oyster mushrooms are 10-30% protein. In a health-conscious country where protein sources are limited and expensive, oyster mushrooms, and perhaps shiitake mushrooms, can supplement protein in the meals at a much lower price.  There are difficulties because people are suspicious of artificial mushrooms, and the oysters don't have the stereotypical mushroom shape. But among people who understand the value and like the delicate flavor of oyster mushrooms, a study showed that consumption was as much as kilo a week for those who purchased them at a price of $2-3 a kilo (2.2 pounds). 

Bernard is a visionary he has built an impressive facility and knew far more about oyster mushroom production than we did. He had invited us to teach shiitake production, as he intends to introduce log-grown shiitakes to Ghanian farmers and into the Ghanian diet.  I (Sandra) would love to help with marketing it! 

Our Assignments at BYEA 

  1. Address the issue of contamination in oyster mushrooms grown in sawdust bags.

Contamination came from different sources:  from not keeping a clean room during inoculation and from bringing in coprinus mushroom spores from the outside.  Many bags were producing only 50-60% matured oyster spawn in the compost.  We helped identify the sources of contamination, the primary source was low-quality spawn, which came from the Food Research Institute in Accra, a problem that Dr. Mary Obodiah at the FRI and she said they were working on, as it was affecting production for most of  growers throughout the country. 7,000-8,000 Ghanians have been trained in shiitake production and in 2002, there were 5,000 farmers in the country, over a hundred out of Techiman. She sees this as a moderate level of production.  With the current level of contamination, she said, there is not enough supply to meet the demand.  

  1. Provide training in packaging, processing and marketing of oyster mushrooms to

mushroom growers who had completed the Bemcom training program.  We spoke to a group, mostly women, who were growing oyster mushrooms in little wooden buildings outside of Techiman. Most of them didn't speak English and very few had electricity or running water. They watered their compost bags 3 times a day by scooping water from a pan with their hands.  The meeting started with a prayer and a song about mushrooms. There was brisk discussion about drying the oysters because they have only 3-5 day shelf life. As for marketing, I realized that we had been in Ghana less two weeks; and because marketing is culture-based, I was at a loss, especially since so many of the growers didn't read or write, my media-based approach wasn't going to help them.  I asked them to share their successful tactics and some good ideas came out of that.  Later, I developed a media plan for Bemcom to bring public attention to the oyster mushrooms. One goal is to establish a cooperative central sales point where farmers can sell their mushrooms and other products and that will require some major marketing. Doug worked on logos and with the group we created slogans and graphic designs for Bemcom. 

  1.  Investigate whether shiitake production is a viable enterprise in Ghana. Bernard

has studied shiitake production at the University of North Carolina, growing on logs. His  previous attempts at growing shiitakes were undermined by poor wood quality and termites. Shiitake logs are highly resistant to pests and diseases because the immune system of the shiitake is strong and as the log grows older and might be more susceptible to disease, the shiitake grows larger inside the log and protects it.  Furthermore, the shiitake is higher in protein than oyster mushrooms and has health benefits that include strengthening the human immune system, lowering cholesterol, and they have anti-viral compounds. They don't grow as fast as oyster mushrooms, but they are sturdier and have a 2-week shelf life.  No one is a prophet in his own land, so Bernard asked us to talk about shiitake production to the growers and to the Bemcom staff.  This started us on a crusade to find the types of wood that would be suitable. Internet access was a challenge and we did our best with local resources to supplement our limited time online.  We talked with a forester to learn about available wood species and to a meteorologist about temperatures and rainfall. Since shiitake strains are temperature related, we searched online for warm-weather strains in Europe, Asia, South America, and South Africa with no success. I emailed spawn producers in the US and Frank Michael from The MushroomPeople at The Farm in Summerville, TN, offered to donate warm-range spawn to Bemcom.  

  1.  We worked hard there, learning oyster mushroom production, and during the

second week we made a presentation every day. There was no electricity at Bemcom, so I made a photograph presentation about shiitake mushrooms. 

We also made a life-long friend in Bernard and we are working on bringing him here so we can take him to commercial log-grown shiitake farms in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.  

He is a visionary and is creating a way for people to be financially self-reliant. Bernard's and Bemcom's motto is Freedom from Poverty. As one woman in the grower's group put it, I bought a cow with the money I made from my mushrooms. My husband got sick and couldn't work. I was able to feed my family and pay my children's school fees.  We want to help make freedom from poverty a reality. We are raising money and going through the administrative hoops to bring Bernard here. 

  1. The last days we were there, Bernard took us to the tourist sites, Fiema Monkey

Reserve, Kintampo Falls, and we spent weekends with him and his fiance at his sister's home in the city of Sunyani. It was a wonderful experience. 

The People of Ghana 

The Ghanians are a kind and gentle people; we were treated with respect and affection almost everywhere we traveled. People went out of their way to help and protect us. Ghanians are healthy they eat fresh produce prepared fresh every day; much of it organic when you buy from the local outdoor markets. They have white, strong, straight teeth, bright eyes, smooth, clear skin, and straight beautiful posture (maybe because they carry things on their heads and keep their spines straight). We saw few people who were overweight and not a single obese person. Music was with us all the time, and there was general feeling of good will and positivity, meaning smiling easily, laughing, joking, and clearly happy to see one another. Extended family units are strong and large. We were called mommy and daddy, by young people and  brother and sister by the elders. Although money is not plentiful for most of the people in Ghana, we didn't see the extreme poverty and starvation often associated with Africa. Rather, we experienced an overall sense of hopefulness and striving. 


We traveled north to Tamale (TAH muh lay) and then to Mole (MOH-lay) National Game Reserve, where we took walking safaris and saw the animals, including monkeys, baboons, antelope and elephants.  Then we went back south to Kumasi, with its impressive cultural center and finally toward the coast for our second assignment at Jerusalem Farms in Edumfa, close to the city of Cape Coast, where slave traders exported millions of Africans for profit. 

Jerusalem Farms, Edumfa 

Our assignment there was to assess their situation for adding mushroom production and other profitable agriculture operations to the Farm. Jerusalem Farms is an extraordinarily successful farm, growing plantains, palm oil nut palms, coconut palms, cocoa, citrus, yams, cassava, and timber (especially teak wood), with fish ponds and a small cattle operation. It is a family operation based on the same land as Edumfa Spiritual Revival and Healing Center, also called Edumfa Prayer Camp, where Mrs. Grace Mensah is the spiritual leader. John Papa Mensah, 94, is the leader of Jerusalem Farms, assisted by agricultural expert, Sam Aggrey, who became our dear friend. In the Ghanian way of extended family, he came to call Doug, My Brother.  

We saw the perfect opportunity to introduce oyster mushroom production. We intensified our search for wood types, pushed by time and limited internet access and problems with electricity. There was drought in the north, where the nation's power comes from a hydro-electric plant, so the country was sharing power, meaning electricity went off for periods of 30 minutes to 12 hours. We recommended that they inoculate the teak stumps and other hardwood stumps with reishi mushrooms, another highly prized pharmaceutical mushroom. We learned about the popular native mushrooms, including the epu (straw mushroom), m'brie pa (termite-mound mushroom, not yet successfully cultivated, despite research worldwide), the assassi mushroom that grows at the base of felled ceiba trees, and more. It turned out that the straw and oyster mushrooms would flourish on the discarded hulls of oil palm nuts. Jerusalem Farms was putting in a palm-nut oil processing plant and would be using over 40 tons a day of palm nuts, so husks would be plentiful and have fewer contamination problems than growing in sterilized sawdust.  

When the oil palm tree gets to be about 30 years old and falls or is felled, the juices ferment and wine tappers remove the liquid.  Several weeks later, the epu/domo/straw mushrooms appear on the tree. Since oyster mushrooms are fluted and don't look like mushrooms and shiitakes are entirely new, we recommended following Sam Aggrey's advice to start with the known and move to the unknown, as the strategy for developing and marketing their mushroom operations.  

We also introduced the idea of growing Artemesia in Ghana. It's the only known cure for malaria, which is a catastrophic disease throughout Africa. It also prevents malaria. I tried to get some before we left and it was not available. As we researched artemesia, we learned it was being grown for enormous profit in other parts of Africa and we worked frantically, and to date unsuccessfully, to find seed sources before we left.  We learned it grows in high altitudes and since we were on the coast, Jerusalem Farms is not an ideal location. But as they are also in the business of importing agricultural processing equipment, there is no reason why it couldn't be grown in the mountainous eastern part of the country and processed at Edumfa. 

The Prayer Camp 

Where we had been constantly busy in Techiman, life slowed down for us and we spent many hours at Edumfa waiting together peacefully in joyment for people and for events to begin. We went to the upbeat Pentecostal Church services conducted by Auntie/Sister Grace, (XXX) with a band, speaker system, impassioned preaching, and much dancing, singing, waving of handkerchiefs, and testimonies of miraculous recoveries and healings that had occurred at the Prayer Camp.  Over a thousand people were housed there as visiting devotees. They fasted and they slept, most of them on thin mattresses on the floor of small gymnasium-sized spaces. Sleeping times were noon to four and 9 pm to 7 am, during which angels came and lifted their burdens, healed their bodies and their heartaches. During church people told their dreams of transformation and many people returned to tell their stories after returning to their daily lives and receiving wealth, love, and greater happiness. A boy in a wheel chair walked away from Edumfa with Auntie Grace's blessing. 

We enjoyed our experience immensely. My respect for Doug and my trust in him grew, as did his for me so that we grew closer and are happier together for having done this volunteer work. I am deeply grateful to the mushrooms for taking us to Ghana. I would like to retire from our Lost Creek Mushroom Farm Shiitake Gift Log business and do more of it. We had the opportunity to go to Eastern Europe as mushroom experts, but the time wasn't right. This time, everything about it was right. 

Bringing Bernard Bempah to the United States

It will take about $8,000 to bring Bernard to the US and to take him to the various shiitake farms.  If you can contribute even a small amount, it will help to change the mushroom production in Ghana.  

Where our efforts helped maybe 200 people, Bernard, with his excellent intelligence, his vision, enthusiasm, commitment, experience and technical knowledge, can help millions of people in his country. 

Please donate with a credit card at 1-800-792-0053, online (LINK), or by sending a check to Mushrooms in Ghana, Lost Creek Mushroom Farm, PO Box 520, Perkins, OK 74059

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