Mushroom initiatives in the Central Luzon region started way back in 2004. However, with very limited resources, the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Office (DA-RFO) 3-Central Luzon Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CLIARC) was not then able to fully carry out studies that will further explore the benefits of mushroom growing.
“It was in 2007 when we were able to take off once again, this time with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). Since then, we have embarked on researches and studies on the development of low-cost technologies such as tissue culture and the propagation of edible mushrooms for the establishment of mushroom livelihood projects at the community level,” said Dr. Emily A. Soriano, senior science research specialist and mushroom expert at the DA-RFO 3-CLIARC.
According to Dr. Soriano, their R&D activities aim to provide additional sources of income to farmers and the community especially those in the rural areas and those who do not own land. “Though Central Luzon is known as a rice farming area, people here are not landholders. Thus, on the part of the DA, we want to give them a source of continuous income. Apart from that, we also want to help conserve the environment by turning agricultural wastes into useful materials and even make profits from them. Agricultural by-products such as rice hulls, rice straw, and saw dust can be used as substrates in mushroom propagation,” Dr. Soriano explained.
As for the health benefits, Dr. Soriano said that mushroom contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, specifically, the Vitamin B complex, iron, calcium, and potassium. “From an analysis conducted by a food chemist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute, mushroom was shown to have as much as triple the calcium content of those from other calcium sources. Also, we found out that potassium in mushroom is twice what one can obtain from bananas,” she elaborated.
When it comes to economic benefits, Dr. Soriano acknowledges the potential of mushroom for livelihood. “At the community level, only low capital requirement is needed because readily-available resources in the community can be used. And based on our studies, we found that mushroom can give 236 percent to as much as 800 percent return-on-investment,” she added. Dr. Soriano shared how a community-based mushroom cooperative in Brgy. Anao in Tarlac sustained its mushroom operation from 2009 until the present. “Members of the Anao Mushroom Producers’ Cooperative have come to earn an average daily income of Php300-700,” she said.
Upon seeing that mushroom production is indeed feasible at the community level, the DA’s National Rice Program supported the implementation of the “Community-based Mushroom Production (CBMP)” project on a national level in 2013. “Under the project, we were able to train DA personnel from each of the regions to serve as mushroom focal persons and handle mushroom-related undertakings in their respective regions. These include enterprise development activities and research undertakings on mushroom production and processing, among many others,” said Dr. Soriano.
Alongside the CBMP project implementation was the establishment of the Mushroom Technology and Development Center (MTDC) at CLIARC which was funded by BAR through its Institutional Development Grant facility. The Center paved the way for more quality researches regarding the production and processing up to the marketing of mushroom. It has catered to groups and individuals who wish to be trained on mushroom production and processing. The Center also houses a gene bank of 10-14 species of tropical and temperate mushroom species.
BAR has also provided support for mushroom product development-related undertakings through the National Technology Commercialization Program that have led to the development of mushroom-based products such as patties, sisig, bola-bola, tocino, ice cream, pasta, sauces, and many others.
“As of now, here in Central Luzon, we are scaling up mushroom production to exploit the potentials of venturing into larger scale operation. We are now focusing our studies on market linkaging. For instance, we were able to assist a private entity in Nueva Ecija that is now producing around 150 fruiting bags per cycle (three-month operation). Our initial initiative here at DA was to call a stakeholders meeting among producers, consumers, consolidators, traders, processors, and support institutions. Through this, we can see the demand of the market and identify the gaps and constraints along the value chain,” Dr. Soriano said.
El Don Añeperbos farm experience
In the stakeholder’s meeting organized by the DA-RFO 3 through Dr. Soriano, brothers Don and Elmer Dumale were among the attendees of mushroom growers from Sto. Tomas, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija. Before Don became involved in mushroom growing, he was once a government employee working at the National Museum in Manila. At that time, he had to leave his family behind in Nueva Ecija. “I thought that I must find a way to look for an option where I can be with my family while earning an income. This is where mushroom growing came into the picture. We saw its income-generating potentials which we can do within the comfort of our home”, shared Don. “The DA, through Dr. Soriano, was able to link us with markets. Her team gave us technical support when it comes to addressing diseases and giving advice on how we can further improve our production,” Don added.
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Their mushroom business is now a family business where Don is responsible for tissue culture up to planting in fruiting bags. From there, his brother Elmer takes over. “At the start, finding the market was really our biggest challenge. Our main market then was only through the public market. Dr. Soriano and her team helped us when it came to developing market linkages. Eventually, there came times when our supply could no longer meet the clients’ demand,” Elmer recounted.
When it comes to product development, it is Elmer’s wife, Wilma, who is into the processing of mushroom into a variety of products such as mushroom chicharon, burger patties, embutido, and atsara – recipes of which were mostly adopted from the BAR-supported mushroom product development initiatives.
But just like any other businesses, their mushroom farm also hit bumpy roads. “To those who want to venture into this business, there will be points when production will be low. But this should not discourage you. Seek guidance from the DA so you can improve your farming practices. Don’t stop and just continue with the endeavor. Start small, and then expand gradually. From our experience, we started with just 20 kilos of mushroom harvest per day, and now, we are harvesting around 150,000 fruiting bags per cycle which is around 150 kilos per day. When mushroom came into our lives, it proved to be a big blessing to us – helping provide for our family’s daily expenses,” Don said. (Anne Camille B. Brion)