Growing up in Lutonyi village in Kakamega County, Consolata Muhindi had an aunt who worked at a bank, and that informed her career choice in finance.

“When I got my appointment letter as a financial advisor at a regional bank at the start of 2014, I was over the moon. Finally, I was working at a bank just as I had envisioned,” she says.

There was the excitement of landing a first job and the new responsibilities but the Sh30, 000 a month salary was an anti-climax. She had dreamt of higher pay, so as soon as she had settled in her new job, she began to look for a side hustle to supplement her income.

“My parents are farmers. My brothers and I helped out in the farm during the holidays. Besides working at the bank, farming was the only thing I knew how to do.”

So she started looking for farming ideas. By chance, she came across a farming report stating that there was a big gap between the production and the demand for mushrooms in the country. While the demand at the time was 1, 200 tonnes, the supply was at only 500 tonnes.

“That was my lightbulb moment. I had found a big gap in the agribusiness market to fill.”

For weeks, every chance she got, Consolata read about mushroom farming on the Internet. When she was sure she could do it, she set aside Sh20, 000 from her salary to start her venture.

“Mushrooms are grown indoors. Luckily, there was an unused house at home which had housed farm workers in the past. I asked my parents if I could use it to produce my first batch of mushrooms,” she recalls.

After planting, she began going round hotels in Kakamega looking for a market for her mushrooms and she got a pleasant surprise.

“Every big hotel I walked into needed more mushrooms than they were getting. All I needed to do was to keep farming,” she says.

DORMER SIDE HUSTLE

For about six months she comfortably did her job at the bank and ran the side hustle, travelling home on the weekends to tend to the mushrooms. When she couldn’t, her younger brothers stepped in.

Then trouble began brewing in paradise. The bank began marking people for retrenchment.

“Every morning our supervisor would remind us that if we didn’t do our best, we would be put on that list. After weeks of this, it became too much. I just quit,” she says.

Now, all she had to live on was her farming. It was no longer just a side hustle that she didn’t care much for. It was now her source of livelihood.

“It was terrifying at first. The first thing I did was join Vijana Reloaded, a youth entrepreneurial hub in Kakamega to get some training in entrepreneurship,” she says.

From here, she started seeing her farming as a business. She wrote down her plans and began implementing them. Now, a year-and-a-half later, Consolata is happy with the way things turned out.

“I harvest up to 100 kilogrammes of mushrooms a month. In five years, I want to make this half a tonne,” she says.

A kilogramme of dried mushroom goes for Sh2, 500 while a kilo of fresh ones goes starts from Sh1, 000. She grows oyster and button mushrooms. Other than hotels, her clients are patients who eat mushrooms as a substitute for meat.

“The biggest challenge is the diseases. Mushrooms take only two months to mature. This means that a disease needs only a very short time to do a lot of damage. I am yet to figure out a way to completely eliminate this,’ she says.

Consolata has employed two workers. Her bigger dream, other than growing her business, is to employ even more people and to move the business to Nairobi.

CONSOLATA’S NUGGETS OF WISDOM

  •  You have to step out of your comfort zone and overcome the fear of the unknown.
  •  An early start to the day gets more done during the day.
  •  See everything that you start through to fruition.
  •  Find a need, a gap in the market then find a way to fulfil this need. If you do, you will have found a valid business idea.

 First published here