Tisange Association tried multiple ways to achieve financial success; they sold vegetables from their farms, fresh baked bread from their kitchens, and meat from their livestock. They often took out multiple loans from the bank to support them, however, they soon fell into debt. The association, with 23 members from local farms, needed to figure out how to become financially stable. They knew that mushrooms, a traditional part of their diets, could help their profits.
The first batch of mushrooms they tried to grow was unsuccessful— not a single mushroom grew. They went to CNFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field office in Malawi for assistance and information on how to produce mushrooms.
Laura Kahles arrived in 2015 to assist with their oyster mushroom production. Mrs. Kahles is from Wisconsin and is a mushroom cultivator and educator at Field & Forest Products. When she first arrived, she saw that the Tisange Association was well organized and their mushroom houses were well-built. However, their process was not sterile; contaminating their mushrooms. This is where Mrs. Kahles intervened with her technical skills to help them. According to Mrs. Kahles, “They were open to the changes, even if the changes were difficult. There were no excuses for them.”
“They did not close up shop, they kept pushing at it. They demonstrated an incredible amount of strength… And it worked!” Matt Cleaver, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer
Armed with the knowledge of best practices for oyster mushrooms, the Tisange Association was ready to start production. To their dismay, the closest seller of oyster mushroom spawn was 250 miles away in Lilongwe. They drove to Lilongwe and spent 218,000 MWK (about $300) on mushroom spawn. Unfortunately, the mushroom spawn was also contaminated and could not harvest the high-quality mushrooms they wanted to produce and sell.
Instead of seeing this as a setback, they saw this as an opportunity. There were no reliable businesses in Malawi that produce good quality mushroom spawn, and they wanted to fill that gap.
Matt Cleaver arrived in 2016 to help with mushroom spawn production. Mr. Cleaver is from California and is a second-generation mushroom farmer. When he was young, he and his father would go on mushroom forging trips all around the world. On these trips, they would set up makeshift sterile laboratories in campgrounds. Matt used his experience to find materials that the association already had. Using Coca Cola bottles, recently used jam jars, a glove box, and a pressure cooker, Mr. Cleaver and Tisange produced viable and high-quality oyster mushroom spawn. Mr. Cleaver explained, “No farmer has everything. Farmers need to be able to be resourceful and think on their feet. Even without me, Tisange would have moved forward given their sheer force of will power.”
In one year, the association sold 947,000 MWK ($1,303) worth of mushrooms, representing a doubling of their annual income.
Besides the financial success, the association is making community-wide impacts. They are influencing their surrounding community to return to mushroom farming. Mr. Cleaver reports that Tisange “is excellent in sharing its knowledge and have actively sought out people to help and get them on their feet within the mushroom industry.”