Bertil van Vugt

I've been always passionate about supporting starting entrepreneurs in Africa to realize social impact. The main objective of VC4Africa is to connect investors and mentors from all over the world to start-ups across Africa.

Ng'ethe Mbachia: “Mushroom Blue creates a livelihood for the farmers in the network”

Kenyan venture Mushroom Blue
Kenyan venture Mushroom Blue

The Kenyan venture Mushroom Blue is setting up a distribution network and at the same time they creating employment for farmers who use agricultural waste to grow mushrooms. They have a venture profile on the Inclusive Business Accelerator, a Practitioner Hub partner. In this interview Mushroom Blue co-founder Ng'ethe Mbachia (in the middle of the picture above) explains more about the starting company and their future plans.

Tell us about Mushroom Blue

"Mushroom Blue is a company that was started to respond to the basic needs of all. Provide food - mushrooms while recycling agricultural waste and employ farmers in the process. The company was founded in 2012 by Nyawira Gitaka and myself a few months after graduating from the University of Nairobi. The farm is based in Limuru with a shop in Kikuyu that we use as a collection, grading and branding area for mushrooms received from farmers. This is latter on distributed and sold to restaurants, grocery shops and individuals in estates and offices."

Can you describe the business model you are working on?

"We are involved in one area of the mushroom value chain as suppliers. The mushroom industry in Kenya is as old as our independence (1963). We felt that there were existing small and large scale farmers who faced challenges to market their produce and the fluctuations in the production due to extreme weather created inconveniences for the existing clients. Mushroom Blue has created a network of farmers who grow different mushrooms and they directly supply to us as their direct market. We brand the produce and redistribute it to the market we have. The farmers’ network guarantees us mushrooms throughout the year as we have various farmers and even referrals from existing farmers and institutions."

See the video below about Mushroom Blue on Kenyan television.

Who are the farmers you work with?

"They are selected on a very small criterion; the farmers we work with have to deliver a certain grade and quality. For this to be verified, a farmer has to allow us do a field visit and assess the place a few weeks before they start harvesting. If the farmer is too far for a visit, we ask for a sample and also ask to have a few high definition pictures sent.

The farmers are required to fill in a certain form to capture their information to help us know exactly the quantity they expect to harvest and in what period, their information and bank details as all payments are done there. This allows us to scout for a market if we notice the supply is not able to be absorbed by our current market.

We do not train farmers, this is done by a local University that we have partnered with and they also have a calendar for training approximately about 200 farmers every month. This is better as farmers are taught using a single syllabus and the data base of those trained and thereafter farming can easily be stored and accessed from this institution to our advantage."

The Mushroom Blue team at work
The Mushroom Blue team at work.

What is the feedback from the farmers so far?

"The feedback from farmers has been rather very encouraging. Some farmers who used to farm mushrooms and along the way got discouraged due to market challenges have come back on board and are farming. New farmers fill really at ease as they have a direct market and they enjoy our way of working. By partnering with a local university that pioneered mushrooms research in Kenya, we have been able to have farmers offered extension services and technical advice that goes a long way in securing a very resilient value chain in the near future. End of last December we organised a round table meeting with farmers - both small and large scale- and this forum facilitated them to share their ideas. As a company we believe livelihood is not about money but about empowerment, and our via our work we are creating impact there."

What are the main challenges you’ve faced so far?

"One of the main challenges we have faced so far is proper marketing, our team is made up of three scientists, with one majoring as an accountant by training also. The marketing challenges have really seen us not be able to penetrate the market widely or even focus on a niche market. Mentorship and support in marketing and product development from the IBA community would go a long way in seeing the foundations of this company being well build and harnessing its full potential."

What are your plans for the future?

"We have shifted our interest to Mombasa, Malindi and Kilifi and Kwale counties at the Coast to widen our market share. We have been able to penetrate the market but only in a minimal way as logistics has been an issue we are yet to overcome. We have been looking at expansion to the regional market of East Africa, the ninth largest common market in the world. Kenya is the leading producer of mushrooms in the region. As we have learned some countries import mushrooms from as far as China while they are readily available in the backyard. We also have a formulation for porridge mix which we believe will be very good for children and breast feeding mothers. To commercialise this we fill we need an investor to enable production and distribution in the market."

The Inclusive Business Accelerator facilitates the acceleration of impactful entrepreneurship in Base of the Pyramid (BoP) markets. We do this by building an online and offline structure that supports the delivery of substantial numbers of investment-ready inclusive business plans focused on improving the well-being of people at the BoP. It is our aim to create an 'one-stop shop' for businesses to innovate, grow, replicate and improve their inclusive business strategies. Initially our services focus on the three sectors with the highest potential for inclusive business and positive impact: Agriculture and Food, Water and Sanitation and Sustainable Energy. The Inclusive Business Accelerator is a partnership between BoPInc, SNV, VC4Africa and Neyenrode Business University.