| My Land, My Country | Edited extracts
LAE - Usually the mushrooms we get in Papua New Guinea are expensive and the technology behind them is a mystery.
But in Goroka, a team of Chinese scientists from the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University are teaching Eastern Highlanders how to grow their own mushrooms.
It’s a simple operation that uses mostly local materials for building and growing.
One of the first things you see when you enter the small research compound tucked away in north Goroka is tall grass planted in rows. The grass looks like local pitpit but the stalks are thicker and the leaves are bigger.
It’s called Lin grass after the Fujian university professor, Lin Yinxing, who has been leading mushroom and rice research since 1998.
The grass from Southern China is central to the system being adopted by farmers in the Eastern Highlands.
“The grass is suitable to grow here,” said Lin. “You have a lot of local materials here and your climate it suitable for the grass to grow.
“The yield is very high and one hectare can produce 800 tons of fresh grass.”
The primary use of Lin grass is in the creation of growing material for the highland mushroom variety farmers have been cultivating.
Lin first came to PNG in 1998 to work on mushroom research and says it took a lot of experimentation and time to develop a suitable method of mushroom growing, but the Eastern Highlands climate is perfect.
“These kinds of mushroom can grow in Eastern Highlands all year round. Dry season or wet season, every season you can plant these mushrooms.”
When the grass grow to about 8 meters, it is harvested and dried in the sun. The stalks are then crushed and ground into a pulp. This is the substrate – the dry material from which the mushrooms grow.
“We got China aid support of K15 million for three years,” said Frank Wanguapi, natural resource advisor with the Eastern Highlands provincial administration. “This is a project that is meant to raise incomes and strengthen food security.”
In the mushroom incubation centre – a small structure built of bamboo and Lin grass stalks – plastic tubes inoculated with mushroom spores are stacked from the ground up.
“Apart from the plastic sheeting, we don’t use imported material,” Lin explained.
“In China we plant mushrooms in buildings because during winter, the temperature is too cold and in summer, it’s too hot. Your climate is good. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold.”
Mushrooms are a low volume, high value crop. Because they are fast growing, farmers stand to make higher profits in a much shorter time.
Farmers began selling mushrooms after four months training and the demand is very high in Goroka with one kilogram selling for K30.
“People are growing their own rice to eat and with the mushrooms, they won’t need to buy food from stores,” said Eastern Highlands governor Peter Numu.
“People are already empowered. If the government of prime minister James Marape is talking about reducing food import dependence, I want to say the Eastern Highlands is already implementing a solution.”