Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two Fun Guys Inspect Guatemala's Fungi

Oyster mushrooms, so called that for their odd resemblance in sight, taste, and smell to the seafood, and other specialty mushrooms have been increasingly in demand.  In Central Guatemala, AsociaciĆ³n VisiĆ³n Maya, or the Maya Vision Association has been successfully producing these mushrooms for ten years, but asked Farmer-to-Farmer to help them develop their skills and create recommendations for better practices. 

Participants testing, preparing, and inoculating spawn
Starting on February 3rd, F2F volunteers Dr. Khalid Hameed, Professor of Plant Pathology at Duke University and Dr. Henry Van Cotter, a visiting professor in the Mycology Lab at Duke, began a series of training sessions designed to increase the productivity of Maya Vision’s farmers. 

Without the proper supplies, Guatemala’s mushroom farmers have been industrious and inventive in their efforts- for example, without petri dishes readily available, they use old baby food jars instead.  Maya Vision Association farmers have been growing oyster mushrooms fairly successfully for the past ten years; however, their production has been hindered by the lack of technical skills and knowledge necessary to maintain appropriate growing conditions, as well as the undependable availability of high-quality mushroom spawn (the material used to carry the vegetative part of the fungus, called the mycelium, so that the mushroom can be transported and stored).  Drs. Cotter and Hameed set up experiments to test various ways to improve yields, and taught what methods and what facilities are necessary in order to produce spawn. They also visited the growers' production houses in order to give feedback for general improvements and the reduction of losses due to contamination and poor environmental conditions.  Over the course of the week, their participants successfully prepared and inoculated spawn in three different varieties, enough to start their own strain library, which will remove their dependence on external sources of spawn.

Training participant with his mushrooms
Drs. Cotter and Hameed have transferred valuable technical knowledge that farmers can immediately apply to their own crops, but the long-term recommendations of maintaining a strain library and creating their own laboratory for spawn creation will help the Maya Vision Association become independent and even allow members to sell their spawn to non-Association farmers, creating a source of revenue. There is a broad range of opportunities for these growers to develop their operations with a readily available and affordable stock of spawn, including expanding to additional oyster mushroom-like Pleurotos fungi, non-Pleurotos mushrooms like shiitake, and even some species of wild mushrooms native to Guatemala.  With these recommendations put into place, Drs. Cotter and Hameed estimate that the growers' yields could increase by 50-100% from their current levels of production.  

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