While the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered businesses and limited customer bases across Afghanistan, one type of business has thrived in these conditions: mushroom farming.
While growing mushrooms is not new in Afghanistan, the practice has flourished in the past year because mushroom farming doesn’t require a lot of space—in fact, it can be done inside a house. Vendors report that they are making a solid income from mushroom farming, and customer interest is growing.
Reuters recently profiled a mushroom farmer named Rasool Rezaie who has operated out of Kabul for two years. Rezaie learned how to produce and cultivate mushroom spores from a friend in Russia.
Rezaie, who is Afghan, moved to Russia in 2012 for better job prospects, part of a large migration from Afghanistan to Europe in the 2010s. When Rezaie’s claim for asylum was ultimately rejected, he moved back to Afghanistan and got a job as a shopkeeper. However, he kept thinking about mushroom farming, a profession he had experience in.
He started small, growing mushrooms in a room in his house. Now, he earns about 4,500 Afghanis (USD 58) each day selling mushrooms, and he also is helping others start their own mushroom farms.
Early Mushroom Farming
Afghan officials began bringing the practice of mushroom farming to the nation as far back as 2012, when 10 delegates attended a week-long training in Solan, India, through a United Nations Development Program initiative. These experts included government representatives, entrepreneurs, and agricultural researchers. The session was part of a larger effort to teach 200 economically disadvantaged families from each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces how to farm mushrooms.
Government officials had designated mushroom farming as a practice with significant potential because of the high demand for the product. Haji Nisar, a farmer who attended that training and later set up a successful mushroom farm in Kabul, told a media outlet that mushrooms could impact the country’s domestic and international presence in the market. At the time, mushroom farmers anticipated a booming market in Dubai alone. “We really want to be quick off the block to seize this opportunity,” Nisar said.
The training sessions taught participants everything from how to produce mushroom spawns to managing common pests and diseases. They also learned about the nutritional and medicinal benefits of mushrooms as well as strategies for promoting mushrooms to the general public.
Nasir created a successful basement farm, where he grew many types of mushrooms, including oyster and button mushrooms, in composting straw packed in plastic bags. He found that button mushrooms may be the most successful if grown commercially on a large scale in Afghanistan due to the country’s climate. The mushrooms thrive in high humidity and temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius (about 77 degrees Fahrenheit).
The crop in each plastic bag can be harvested monthly, and Nisar estimated that each plastic bag costs about 60 Afghanis (USD 1) to produce and created a return of as much as 400 Afghanis (USD 7). This means even a small-scale mushroom farmer could make a decent income. “And this without any need for farmland holdings, since you can grow mushrooms literally anywhere and everywhere,” Nisar told a media outlet.
Rezaie, the grower in Kabul, has found similar success. He grows oyster mushrooms, selling almost 30 kilograms (approx. 66 pounds) a day in the markets. When he began farming, he produced about 4 or 5 kilograms daily; now he earns almost 4,500 Afghanis (USD 60) a day from his crops.
Nisar and others see mushroom farming as a game-changing crop that can transform the lives of local farmers in Afghanistan.
Rezaie and other successful farmers are creating a support network of growers throughout the country. During the pandemic, the industry has seen an uptick as out-of-work Afghans have discovered the at-home farming business. Rezaie is assisting his peers by supplying spores to new farmers—an unusual instance in a country where most seeds are imported.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that mushrooms could positively impact Afghanistan’s farming industry and help many Afghans find a stable source of income, especially those who don’t own land. One FAO project sent experts to educate 10 trainers who then taught 10 residents how to cultivate mushrooms and produce spawn, with plans for additional training in processing and packaging. In less than a year, the number of Afghan mushroom farmers expanded to 200. FAO provided the farmers with equipment and tools as well as support processing, packaging, and marketing their mushrooms. Maryam Afzali, a widowed mother of six who now earns about 12,000 Afghanis (USD 200) a month selling mushrooms, told the FAO that she is optimistic about the future of mushroom farming in Afghanistan. “I find it a very good small business, it’s clean, needs a fairly small start-up fund, has a good future because it is healthy and nutritious,” she said.