Resiliency: Aspire Launchpad Graduate Pivoting Amidst Ambiguity

September 2, 2021

Meet Anthony Githae.

He is a 2019 graduate of our Aspire Launchpad program, a 9-week course for idea or early-stage entrepreneurs. It helps potential entrepreneurs to test their ideas and build a scalable business model before expending large amounts of capital and time.

Anthony used to be a seasonal farmer, planting maize and beans like many in Kenya. The innate risk of inter-cropping these two plants is climate variance, which causes farmers to navigate drought, flooding, poor soil conditions, and limited access to markets. These dramatically affect the profitability of these crops. 

Given this volatility, Anthony pivoted into a niche market: mushroom farming. 

Successful mushroom farming does not rely on the variability of actual climate, but on the controlled climate conditions that the farmer curates. Mushrooms are grown in a temperature and light control building called a grow house. Within these grow houses, farmers cultivate mushrooms in bags of soil substrate that are specifically prepared with 100% organic material and no chemical usage. On average, grow houses are 15’ x 25’ x 12’ and have a capacity of holding 250 bags of mushrooms. Many farmers manage a grow house or two besides their grain production to help diversify their efforts.

While this transition from seasonal farming to mushroom farming is commendable, Anthony has a bigger vision to connect and support mushroom growers around Kenya together through an online network via Facebook of over 14,000 members where he and others regularly share growing techniques, answer questions, and share opportunities. He has also elevated himself to become a distributor between retail stores, grocery outlets, and currently works with and helps over 200 different smallholder mushroom farmers around the greater Nairobi area get their mushrooms to the market. This position often requires him to advocate on behalf of smallholder farmers. Anthony noted one challenge he and other farmers face is the overcharging of fees by major grocery chains. In one case, a community of farmers sued a major chain and won, helping to reduce fees and ensure more profit for farmers. Corruption is a pervasive theme in emerging markets across the world, and Anthony is engaged in preventing it. 

In Kenya, mushrooms are expensive at almost the same cost per gram as meat. Yet, to raise the profile of mushrooms in Kenya and expand his market, Anthony is figuring out ways to can and dry mushrooms. Innovating beyond the growth of fresh mushrooms will reduce spoilage and reward farmers to grow more. This will cause a deeper, interconnected community of farmers across Kenya and raise the overall profile of mushrooms across the country. 

We can define resiliency as developing an ability to adapt amid adverse shocks and stresses, learning through and embracing uncertainty. One such shock, the COVID-19 pandemic, has certainly had its toll on smallholder farmers across Africa. A main network of Anthony’s, the hotel industry, forced a 20% reduction in mushroom sales at the start of the pandemic. Yet, despite such a hit, he added three new staff during COVID-19, bringing his employee total to 12. This is because of his diversified market stream and extensive network.

As a farmer and distributor, Anthony is an integral part of a growing, resilient network of mushroom farmers throughout Kenya. Through community, resourcing farmers, and creating access to new markets, Anthony is helping to make the niche mushroom market more insulated from future stresses, like drought, disease, and price fluctuation.

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