2020 was a trying year that broke the resilience of many as they lost their jobs and sources of livelihood. For most people in formal employment, losing a job can be a traumatic experience that leads to depression and other complications. However, for Paul Ruto, the opposite was his case. Ruto willingly resigned from his stable and well-paying job to venture into farming.
While working at the bank in Bomet County, Mr Ruto’s work entailed a lot of hours spend on the internet and on the social media space. It was during this period that he developed an interest in researching on farming, he saw the potential and envisioned how he could leverage on the social media space to boost his farming venture.
The Bachelor of Science graduate from Moi University first tried his hand on dairy farming, but he soon learned that marketing of the milk was not as easy and was also cost intensive. Once again employing the use of technology and social media, he began reading about mushroom farming from facebook. Thereafter, his friends formed a WhatsApp group where they discussed, offered advice and support to one another in regards to mushroom farming.
Ruto, made the bold step to resign from the coveted banking profession in 2017. A move he has never regretted as he now earns five times more from his farming venture whose operations are partially anchored on social media.
In the same year, Ruto underwent training on mushroom farming at University of Eldoret. He later on went to Kakamega County for more practical training. “From Kakamega and with my small investment in dairy farming, I converted my dairy farm house into a mushroom farm house,” Ruto said.
Ruto noted that despite most of the construction materials such as banana leaf waste, wheat strew, sawdust and sugar waste from factories being given free or at a low cost, at the time, he found the entire construction of the farm house was quite expensive, additionally the cotton seeds were also a bit expensive. “However, looking back, if you can pick wheat strew at the cost of Sh. 2,000 per ton and sugar dust waste at Sh. 1,000 per ton and compare it with two kilos of maize certified seed at sh. 600 the inputs for mushroom farming is relatively cheap,” he said.
The young farmer revealed that planting materials are expensive as the seedlings are bought in spores form adding that to start mushroom farming, one is required to have two houses for the harvest to be continuous because after planting you one harvests after 45 days and replant after three months. “For my case, I started with one house but with only the first harvest, I realized that the demand was overwhelming and I went for a soft loan to build two other mushroom houses to enable me sustain my clients,” Ruto recalled.
Ruto discloses that even with the eight mushroom houses currently in his farm, the demand for mushroom and mushroom products cannot be met as the market stretches from Kericho , Nyamira, Kisii, Narok and Bomet Counties. “I maintain that technology is wonderful since I don’t travel a lot to market my products since I use digital platforms to reach the market and use the same to get my money,” he declared.
For marketing, he discloses that he uses the strategy of business to customer (B2C) where he sends his produce directly to the customers and at the same time applies business to business(B2B) model to reach the markets.
Ruto informs that there are six types of mushroom varieties in the market but most farmers go for Oyster and Button varieties as they are in high demand. “The other varieties like Shiitake, Portobello, Gardama and Maitake mushrooms are rare in the market and sometimes are imported by supermarkets and hotels who have special customers,” he added.
He also advises that mushrooms have very high nutritional value which includes proteins, and advised young people to venture into its farming. “I challenge the youth in this country to change their attitudes and the use of internet and mobile phones for inappropriate pictures and videos sharing but use it as a means of communication that will give a competitive advantage and change their lives. Employment is nevertheless good for raising money to start off and also learning the skills you need for survival in business,” he stressed.
The former banker however cautioned that mushroom seedlings are very expensive since they require a scientific process to produce and a laboratory should always be in place for the spores to be cultured in sorghum.
Due to the challenges he has faced severally while trying to acquire seedlings, Mr Ruto plans to establish a spore laboratory in order to reduce the cost of production and at the same time give the farmers in the region easy access to the seedlings.
The farmer, who is in his late 30’s, has employed eight youth whom he is training and mentoring to start their own farms so as to boost mushrooms production in the region. “I decided to be a permanent employee in this venture for quality control and product sustainability but I occasionally engage casual laborers,” he said.
For Mr Ruto, internet connectivity is a game changer in how business is conducted as well as the transfer of knowledge and making business management cheaper.
The ambitious farmer has plans to turn part of his farm into a training school. This was inspired by the challenges he encountered trying to find a place to train. Additionally, he has received requests for the same.
As we parted Ruto appealed to research institutions to sponsor studies pertaining to the African mushroom which he feared would soon become extinct since there is little or no literature on the same.