Proof that something small can mushroom into a viable business

Chanmar Mushrooms in Heidelberg is proof of the fact that you don’t need hectares and hectares of land to create a viable and sustainable farming business. They started out small, but now, 17 years later, the business supplies mushrooms to leading chain stores throughout Gauteng and Limpopo, exclusively on a wholesale basis.

Chanmar Mushrooms was also one of the first producers in the country to introduce biodegradable packaging that is friendlier to Mother Nature. Plus, they recently ventured into agro-processing by manufacturing flavoured mushroom delicacies that can be served as a side with meals or as a light snack. At the helm of this unique niche farm, you’ll find a unique woman, Marietjie Kruger.

Marietjie does not hesitate to roll up her sleeves to put in the work, even when it means working into the small hours of the night, because in the end, it is clearly worth it. Based on her personal experience, she also believes that any man or woman can make a success of such a farming business, as long their heart is in the right place. 

Before you set your heart on it, let’s look at the potential for mushroom farming in South Africa and whether it’s worth exploring. Well, what’s good to know is that mushroom farming has recently been identified by our government as one of the key agricultural sectors that has the potential to help boost our national economic reconstruction and recovery plan.

One of the reasons for this is that the mushroom industry in our country is relatively small, while the demand for mushrooms keeps growing, both locally and internationally. As pointed out by the likes of the World Health Organisation (WHO), this is not about to change. Largely because mushrooms have a wealth of health and medicinal properties, and on top of that, they can serve as a healthy and affordable substitute for meat.

In 2020, for example, the world consumed no less than 14.35 million tonnes of mushrooms, and according to Fortune Business Insights, this figure will increase to a notable 24.05 million tonnes yearly by 2028. The value of our local mushroom industry is currently estimated at R940 million, and we produce around 21 000 tonnes annually, some of which is exported to countries such as Mauritius and Namibia. 

There are literally thousands of edible species of mushrooms, but in South Africa we only focus on a few strains of these, as South Africans tend to have more conservative palates. As such, around 90% of our local production consists of white and brown button mushrooms (cremini) as well as brown mushrooms (portobella or portabello), all of which belong to the Agicarus species.

Interesting to know is that mushrooms are actually fungi and are different from plants in two main ways. Firstly, mushrooms don’t need soil but rather compost or fertiliser to grow. Mushroom production is therefore an ideal way for more established farmers to effectively utilise other agricultural by-products, such as chicken manure and wheat straw.

Secondly, mushrooms don’t need sunlight, as they flourish in dark, cool and damp conditions. For this reason, mushrooms are predominantly cultivated in inhouse facilities. Follow this link to find out how:

This also implies that any person with limited resources and space can start growing mushrooms in containers from home in any space that is not used, such as a basement, garage, or even that shelf under the basin. In fact, most niche farmers with whom we’ve crossed paths agree that you can minimise your risks by starting out on a small scale – by growing as your business grows, so to speak.

Luckily, we constantly run into farming operations like Chanmar Mushrooms who show us that small farms can indeed turn into big businesses. Follow @NicheFarmers on Facebook to learn from other innovative niche farmers and share your own story.