JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — Jobs in South Sudan are hardly springing up like mushrooms, especially during times of austerity, but South Sudanese are resourceful and have taken to creating work for themselves -- including one Juba resident who grows mushrooms for a living.
His name is Edward Kasran, and after looking for work in the education field for almost a year, he finally shifted his focus to another way to make money: mushroom growing.
Kasran grows the fungi in his garden, which is not only filled with mushrooms but also wild and domesticated birds, which swoop and glide overhead as Kasran guides visitors through his plots of mushrooms and into the dark, damp mushroom hall, where clusters of edible fungi poke out of plastic bags containing fertilizer that, apparently, helps mushrooms to grow.
Kasran took a training course in Kampala and then launched his business with $1,000 and a healthy dose of optimism, in spite of the scepticism he encountered.
“When I told the specialists in Kampala that I am going to do mushrooms in Juba, they told me it's a waste of time, that South Sudan is so hot and mushrooms cannot grow," Kasran said.
"I told them no; I must go and try and I must produce mushrooms in Juba. My first priority is to enjoy being a pioneer of producing mushrooms in Juba and also to give a surprise to people in Juba that they are able to find fresh mushrooms.”
When the weather is hot in Juba, Kasran sprays his mushrooms with water to help them keep cool.
When there is no rain in Juba, he takes water from a 12-meter-deep well on his compound -- for the mushrooms.
When he started his business, he thought he would be able to help feed his family and sell some mushrooms on the side.
But now, he harvests two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of mushrooms every three days, and supplies fresh mushrooms to VAMP, one of the biggest food stores in Juba.
Two kilos of mushrooms brings in 50 South Sudanese Pounds. Selling that amount twice a week would mean Kasran is looking at earnings around five times greater than the average gross national income in South Sudan, which, according to the latest available figures, was around $20 a week.
VAMP General Manager Ellen Amita said the food store is delighted with Kasran's muschrooms and would like to do more business with him.
He usually supplies the supermarket with fresh mushrooms once or twice a week, and as soon as he drops off the mushrooms and VAMP staff package them for sale, "The people buy it all," Amita said.
"We want him to supply more -- as much as he can,” she said, mentioning the quantity of 30 kilos.
VAMP's customers prefer fresh mushrooms to the dried ones that are usually on offer in South Sudanese food stores, said Amita, admitting to being a fan of the fresh fungi herself.
They can be cooked in five to 10 minutes, and a kilogram is enough to feed a dozen people, she said.
Kasran, meanwhile, is looking to expand his business but needs to raise capital to do so.
“I need to allocate some capital to extend this shelter... to increase the import of raw materials from Uganda," he said.
"Then, I would hire a laborer... But at the moment I am still studying where to get the funds.”
He also wants to share his knowledge of how to grow mushrooms with other South Sudanese, hoping they, too, will be able to create their own jobs and help provide an alternative source of tasty, nutritious food to others.