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