Nine years ago, Jekesai Njikizana (1973), a qualified agricultural engineer from Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, set up his own company instead of hunting scarce job opportunities. Instead of working for someone else, he decided he wanted to grow and sell oyster mushrooms, a product for which the demand was growing back then. Since 2008, Mycorex Ltd has grown from strength to strength. Besides producing oyster mushrooms, Njikizana teaches prospective growers in his hometown how to cultivate the product themselves. His dream is eventually to expand his business beyond Zimbabwe’s borders, into the rest of Africa.
Q. What does your company do?
A. My company grows and sells oyster mushrooms. We are currently selling fresh mushrooms in 200g punnets but we want to expand our business with a dried oyster mushroom product. Besides growing mushrooms, my business partners and I offer training to communities, NGOs, and the general public. In the medium term, we want to grow into Botswana and Zambia.
Q. Why did you choose the entrepreneurial route?
A. I studied Agricultural Engineering at the University of Zimbabwe. At the time of my graduation in 2000, Zimbabwe was going through a land reform programme, which had turned the agricultural sector upside down. Jobs had become scarce due to the chaos, but there were still many entrepreneurial opportunities. I chose to start my own business because of the impact I could haven in my country. Africa is full of solutions for the problems it is facing. Agriculture is the backbone of those solutions.
Q. What makes your company stand out from the crowd?
A. We stand out because of our mushrooms consistent quality. This due to our engineering background, which has allowed us to innovate towards for instance cost cutting strategies. Our advantage is of a technical nature.
Q. What has been the highlight since your company opened its doors?
A. A notable highlight was at the very beginning when I walked into our growing room and saw how the bags propagated with mushroom mycelium showed a flash of mushrooms. We had done it: we had actually managed to grow mushrooms!
Q. What has been the biggest lesson so far?
A. Thanks to the internet, we know that we are never done learning from other growers elsewhere in the world. We, therefore, continue to draw lessons from WhatsApp groups, YouTube, and other forums like LinkedIn. Learning is essential when you want to improve your edge.
Q. Where do you hope to be in 5 years from now?
A. We want to have mushroom growing locations in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second capital. We also want to grow another variety of mushroom, which has a great export potential for the South African market. This will require us to standardise our growing, training and management systems. But yes, in five years time we hope to be a regional mushroom grower.
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