Producing high quality mushrooms using biotechnological techniques

Thu, 14 Mar 2013 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By Samuel Hinneh

Over the past years in Ghana, there have been several campaigns by non-governmental organisations with one objective, to fuel the perceptions of the general public that anything from GMOs or application of biotechnology are harmful to the health conditions of mankind.

However, scientists have consistently called on these organisations to offer a balanced view of the issue by going to the scientific basis of the arguments. As Ghana has already started with confined field trials of some GMOs such as maize, cowpea and others to follow later, the prospects are enormous for Ghana to achieve food security.

Mushrooms worldwide are considered as a major source of protein in diet, and in Ghana mushrooms are loved by many people. However, the major setback in the consumption is that mushrooms occur seasonally therefore many Ghanaians do not get the opportunity to consistently consume these. With a simple application of technology, biotechnology offers a lifeline to the consistent production of mushrooms. Without manipulating the production of the genes of mushrooms, biotechnology offers lovers of mushrooms nutritious and medicinal properties in the consumption of them. Mushrooms are erroneously regarded as plants though they are fungi. As fungi, they lack seeds and therefore farmers, without the intervention of biotechnology, cannot easily cultivate some species.

Dr Mary Obodai, a Senior Research Scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Food Research Institute, in an interview says mushrooms produced using technological methods, in this case spawn production and the use of tissue culture are required in the sense that, the techniques have been applied to produce the “mushroom seeds” (spawns) without any genetic modification or the use of any chemicals to enhance production of mushrooms for year-round production and consumption.

“In production of mushrooms we do not use inorganic additives, it is all organic, we just use agricultural waste, like saw dust, rice straw, plantain leaves, which can be modified (treated such that the mushrooms can grow on it).

“Thus any substrate can be used to grow mushrooms but, the suitability of the substrate must be determined to ensure that the species of wood, etc is not toxic, because mushrooms tend to pick up some nutrients from where they are found.

“As a result it is important to give the required nutrients in order that they can grow and give that nutritious food. Genes are not manipulated to ensure higher yields’’, she emphasised.

In the production of mushrooms there is the need to have the right nutrients, pH, relative humidity, as well as temperature to ensure good growth.

In Ghana, saw dust, which is a “waste” product of wood processing is usually thrown away. However, by the application of simple technology, this end product, otherwise regarded as useless is used to derive mushrooms, which have high socio-economic benefits.

By applying a technique called tissue culture certain parts of the mushroom are placed on microbiological media and then on cereal grains. This enables the mycelium of the mushroom to grow and continues the cycle. In using this method, mushrooms can be produced all year round to the benefit of all thus, eventually leading to achieve food and financial security, she added.

Generally mushrooms, the edible ones, are nutritious and medicinal in that they aid in enhancing the immune system of the body. Some are used in treatment of cancers, tumours, and hypertension. Mushrooms contain high levels of proteins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates on dry weight basis. The protein content is between 19-40%, the fat content is averagely about 4%.

It is interesting to note that the rural folks in Ghana are well vested with information on mushrooms, which is orally passed on from generation to generation. This indigenous knowledge passed on to rural folks places them in a good position to know some specific functions of certain mushrooms.

“Over the past decade this indigenous knowledge are being documented, if this was not the case this knowledge will fade away with time and the rich information will be lost. However, if preserved, this information could help tremendously in research’’, Dr Obodai said.

For this reason, the Food Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and other Institutions have visited several parts of the country to collect this vital information from the indigenes to be used in future research.

Merging the wealth of information in these surveys with state-of-the-art biotechnological techniques would facilitate Ghana’s contribution to innovative research in the mushroom sector and go a long way to harness the rich resources embedded in fungi and for that matter, mushrooms, among other benefits.

Every year the Institute runs two training programmes for farmers, individuals, companies, among others who have the interest in mushroom production. So far over 3,000 farmers have received training and subsequently these farmers also train other farmers in the production of mushrooms.

Even though this technology started as far back as 1990 in Ghana, Dr Obodai said the information has not reached the desired result due to monetary constraints. Countries such as China, Japan, UK, and USA have invested large capital in the production of mushrooms and make huge profits running into billions of dollars from local sales and export of mushrooms and have created employment as a result of these investments. For instance, the United States of America produced 862 million pounds of mushrooms during 2010-2011, which translated into total value of US$1.02 billion in 2011.

Robert Arthur, a full time mushrooms cultivator for over 17 years based in the Ashanti region says the business is very profitable.

“The patronage is very good, sometimes we cannot meet the demands of customers, as a result, every year I am into expansion of the business’’, he said.

Mr Arthur emphasised that many people are also showing high interest in the business, with over 30 people undertaking mushrooms cultivation training in less than a year from his outfit.

To ensure such people practice the knowledge acquired in the cultivation of mushrooms, Mr Arthur insisted that he offers the training to interested people on one-on-one basis and not in groups.

“In fact when you group those interested in mushrooms cultivation, the impacts is not good since they learn for three to four days and return without practising it’’, he said.

The president of the Mushroom Growers Association, Rev Theophilus Quartey says the cultivation of mushrooms have seen improvements over the years as patronage of the product is showing good signs.

“Ten years ago, people thought cultivation of mushrooms were genetically produced, hence the fear of contaminating some diseases.

“However education and advocacy have improved and people have now realised that the cultivation is not genetically done but applying tissue culture, which maintains the natural traits of the mushrooms’’, he said.

According to Rev Quartey the cultivated mushrooms are nutritious, natural and able to fight diseases such as hypertension, among others.

“We need more education and advocacy to consistently change the notion that cultivated mushrooms are not good for human consumption’’.

The association with membership of over 200, of which about are 90 active members, undertakes capacity building, site visits, and even in some cases offers financial assistance to members, as well as train members in modern and best practices in mushrooms cultivation.

Rev Quartey says the association faces problems of funding, as many financial institutions such as banks still regard mushrooms cultivation as agricultural based activity and unwilling to give out loans for such ventures, among others.

“It is only recently that Opportunity International which has come on board to begin a pilot programme with the association and we believe they will continue to roll out the programme on permanent basis for us’’, he stated.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel