Mushroom Farming has been the key activity of the ZERI Regional Project. In addition the Project also conducted Clinical Testing of Medicinal Mushroom Nutriceuticals in Zambia and Tanzania, Seaweed Resources Development in Namibia and Tanzania, Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) Resource Development in Zambia. Since the end of funding in 2005, the project has focused on Namibia, and its primary activities are Mushroom Farming Development and Seaweed Resources Development. However, the project is still seeking funding to support the regional and Africa initiatives.

Mushroom Farming Development

The project focused on community empowerment through transfer of technologies to grow mushrooms.  With funding from NEDBANK Namibia and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bridge Funds several activities were implemented in the country. Other funding sources such as Global Environment Facility (GEF), Small Grants Programme (SGP) supported facility development.

Some of the ZERI Project activities are implemented together with the Sam Nujoma Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre (SNMCRRC).  The Tulongeni Project in Henties Bay supported by the SNMCRRC has the best mushroom house, which they constructed through financial support from GEF.  The construction of the Mushroom House would enable the community to increase their production and therefore get income generation through the project.

Through NEDBANK Namibia funding of the ZERI Project continued to support the Okaku Community Project to increase its productivity and to improve the facility in terms of environmental challenges that reduce the production of Mushrooms.  The project is situated at the Agricultural Development Centre and carries out its activities with the assistance of Mrs. Marina Kaambu, a Technician within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWRD), who has very good knowledge and skills on mushroom cultivation.  The centre produces very well and is having committed people.

Another project supported through NEDBANK Namibia funding is Khomas Women In Development (KWID) Project in Wanaheda, Katutura.  The project has huge potential and has produced some of the best mushrooms in the country.  However, lack of community co-operation has resulted in decrease in production and sales.  The project has the potential to provide mushrooms for the kindergarten children at the Centre and to serve as a training centre for more people in Katutura.

(Khomas Women in Development (KWID) community with one of the biggest mushroom produced)

Through Bridge funding from UNDP the ZERI project supported the Ogongo Agriculture College, Department of Crop Science to renovate the old Bombshell previously used by the colonial forces into a mushroom House, to acquire the necessary equipment and to support a student to cultivate mushrooms. The project has established itself in 2006 as more spawn was produced and bags inoculated.  The Ogongo Mushroom project has the potential to render technical support to all Mushroom producing communities in Northern Namibia.  Positive results from the use of the Bombshell as a Mushroom House could create opportunities to communities in northern Namibia to utilise the Bombshells in almost every village to produce mushrooms.

As part of the Project objectives to train more people in mushroom production, new sites at Gobabis and Mariental were assessed for the construction of Mushroom houses. The projects are under way for completion in this year (2007).

Opportunities: In the future the University could focus on Technical support and spawn production to ensure the quality of Oyster Mushroom production in Namibia. The University has the potential to develop into a spawn production and marketing centre to mushroom farmers in the country. Many farmers find it difficult to produce quality spawn at their production site. The University could then focus on training, Trainers of Trainers (ToT) in all the regions and then only give technical support to projects when they experience challenges which the ToT cannot solve.

Seaweed Resources Development

In 2006, 3 students conducted research on Mushroom Farming as part of academic requirement to complete the studies.  The student projects were supervised by Prof G. Kaaya and Mrs Pauline Muandingi assisted the students with the methodology and guidance in their research at the ZERI Mushroom House at the Windhoek campus.

Seaweed was used as a substrate for mushroom growing in order to grow idolized mushrooms. The result was positive, but seaweed alone cannot make a pure substrate it has to be only about 10-25 % of the total substrate.


Mushroom cultivation trainings were conducted one each in Windhoek at KWID and at the Okaku Community Mushroom House.  A total of 50 people were trained in Mushroom Cultivation in the year under review.

The project had several requests for training and supporting in the setting up of mushroom farming activities from individuals in different parts of the country.  This demonstrates that there is demand for mushroom cultivation training in the country on commercial level.  The ZERI office, in collaboration with the University Central Consultancy Bureau (UCCB) is investigating the possibility of developing a training course to address this issue.

The long term strategy of the ZERI Mushroom farming is to adopt the Training of Trainers (ToT) approach, in order to empower more people to give training and be able to reach more communities in various parts of the country. The University ZERI project has limited staff to give training but would rather focus on rendering technical scientific support to challenges oyster mushroom producers encounters, in order to increase production in Namibia.

Research and Publication

A mushroom training manual for beginners that simplifies steps to mushroom production is currently being taken care of by the two scientists Ms. Muandingi and Mr. Mubiana.  The manual is to be translated into local languages and final draft was expected mid February 2007.

A brochure on “Development and Promotion of Mushrooms Farming in Namibia” has been developed and is now available at the PMU office.

Research is a core function of the ZERI activities, however in the past year there were no publications.  This was mainly because although the researchers continue to conduct research with communities through project implementation, less attention was paid to recording their findings.

Key research areas:

a) Treatment of substrates

Various methods are used to treat mushroom substrates before inoculation.  The methods are steaming of substrates in drums using wood, gas or electricity and sterilization using the autoclave in case of being in the laboratory.
Many communities cannot afford expensive ways of sterilisation such as the use of an Autoclave.  The ZERI project therefore continues to research alternative cost effective ways of treating the substrate with the aim to use local material.  Treating of substrate is essential to get rid of all other living organism in order to eliminate competition in terms of growth of the mushroom mycelium, thus reducing the chance of the substrate being contaminated.

Using firewood and drums: Firewood are readily available in many parts of Namibia, hence the reason for this means of sterilisation being the most popular amongst communities growing mushrooms.

(Drums used for pasteurization)

Fitting electric element in the drums is an alternative which shows effectiveness in areas where there are no firewood and communities has access to electricity.  It is a sterilisation method that started recently at Henties bay and other projects not related to mushroom.  The project would continue to monitor it for effectiveness.  There is also a possibility to use gas stove to pasteurize substrates.

b) Alternative Mushroom Houses

ZERI projects as a part of its objectives encourages communities to use local material to construct mushroom Houses.  However, mushroom cultivation and growth in various types of mushroom houses grow differently depending on the ability of the structure to maintain temperature and humidity.  Through, observation and interaction with the community the ZERI projects helps to assess the effectiveness of various construction materials in building Mushroom Houses.
Examples below are of traditional thatched houses used for mushroom cultivation in various parts of the country.  These types of mushroom houses are encouraged because any mushroom entrepreneur can afford to build such a structure at home and venture into mushroom cultivation, with not much problems, especially higher temperatures.

Modern brick house with corrugated iron sheets:  This type of structure is constructed mainly as training and demonstration Centres for communities.  They have a fruiting room and a small laboratory where the communities can prepare spawns and inoculate substrates.  Although this mushroom house also shows good fruiting results, there are challenges of climate change which impede growth especially from the corrugated iron sheets on the roof.  Where the problem has been severe, aluminium foil sheets and lately Styrofoam sheets have been used to reduce heat from the roof.  In Gobabis, clay roof has been used as an alternative and the impact of heat on mushroom would be monitored for research purpose.

(Okaku Community Modern Brick Mushroom House)

Using of Bombshell for mushroom cultivation:  Previous research on production at Omahenene has demonstrated that the Bombshells could be utilised for mushroom cultivation.  A full scale pilot of using a Bombshell with improved conditions such as water sprinkles is being conducted at Ogongo Agriculture College.

Using plastic to create Mushroom house within a structure:  The plastic is used to keep humidity within and help to avoid the walls becoming wet during sprinkling in the fruiting room.  It is a very cost effective way where there are existing structures which are not being utilised.  There is no need to renovate the building through and incurring costs.  The plastic used on the floor is covered with sand to maintain humidity for longer periods.  This method is already being used in Walvis Bay and other parts of the country and is considered most appropriate for peri urban communities.  Research is still continuing on the method.

c) Mushroom cultivation and growth adaptation under different climatic conditions:

While working with communities under various climatic conditions in Namibia, ranging from the Coastal desert climate, the semi desert conditions in central Namibia, the arid conditions in the south, the average rainfall conditions in north central Namibia and the tropical conditions in Kavango and Caprivi regions, the researchers collected information on how mushroom cultivation and growth are impacted on by the different climatic conditions.  For example the Tulongeni community in Henties bay had different challenges related to cultivation and growth of mushroom in Henties bay compared to the Okaku Community in Oshana region.

The summer and winter conditions in Namibia also possess various challenges to the cultivation and growth of mushroom in various corners of the country.

The researchers also continue to examine solutions to the challenges communities experience due to the varying climatic conditions. Several adaptation methods were introduced to continue to cultivate and grow mushrooms under varying climatic conditions.

Resources Mobilisation

The ZERI, PMU continue to prioritise seeking funding to expand the activities of the project.  Proposals were developed and submitted to several international funding organisations such as the Japan Grassroots Fund, the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation Support and more.

The ZERI project and the SANUMARC has been designated a Node of excellence in Mushroom farming by the NEPAD Southern Africa Biosciences Initiative.  This could unlock opportunities for funding in the future.