Matthew Cleaver: 2015 Volunteer Service Award Winner

Matthew Cleaver received VEGA's Volunteer of the Year Award in 2015 for exemplary volunteer service.
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  • VEGA Lead Member: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)

DSC02093Location: Santa Cruz, CA
Country: Malawi
Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Southern Africa (FY14-FY18)

Assignment 1: Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative, Oyster Mushroom Production
Assignment 2: Natural Resource College Spawn Unit, Mushroom Spawn Production

Career Summary:
Matthew Cleaver has been learning the art of mushroom cultivation since he was a child, working at the Stoller Research Spawn Laboratory in Santa Cruz, CA, where his father worked as a mycologist. Mr. Cleaver has over 15 years in the mushroom industry, and is currently an independent business and mycology consultant, developing new and innovative products and solutions to mushroom production. Mr. Cleaver has an MBA in International Business from the Monterey Bay Institute of International Studies, and a B.A. in Language Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Mr. Cleaver has a working knowledge of 13 languages, and has travelled to more than 70 countries. 

Area(s) of Expertise: Mushroom production

ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW
The cultivation of oyster mushrooms, which are not native to Malawi, was first introduced in the early 1980’s. Since introduction, mushroom production has not experienced rapid expansion despite its high market potential. In fall of 2014, the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program, implemented by CNFA in Southern Africa, supplied volunteer technical assistance to support this promising sector. The goal of CNFA F2F in Malawi for mushroom expansion is to increase dietary diversity, cultivate entrepreneurship, and stimulate economic growth in order to improve the incomes of participating farmers and their communities.

Since its establishment in 2003, members of the Chalera Mushroom Farmers’ Cooperative have experienced difficulties with cultivating mushrooms for sale and consumption. The cooperative, which is made up of 29 women and six men, is located just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. Despite initial training provided by the Malawi Government’s One Village One Product (OVOP) program, the mushroom farmers still needed additional training in the best methods for growing mushrooms. However, the local agriculture extension office did not possess mushroom expertise to support mushroom production and the cooperative began to lose motivation as a result of low yields and low profits. Chalera Cooperative was discouraged, but the members refused to give up. They contacted CNFA and requested training from the F2F program to revitalize their business, with a specific focus on training the members in the best methods of oyster mushroom farming and to explore the possibility of in-house spawn production.

Volunteer Impact 
Before Matthew Cleaver’s assignment, average sales for the cooperative were 98 kilograms of oyster mushrooms per week. As a result of implementing recommendations from the training, the cooperative is currently selling 168 kg per week, representing a 71% increase in sales. If the cooperative maintains its current rate of production, the potential increase in sales could jump from 5,096 kilograms sold per year to nearly 9,000 kilograms, and the annual revenue for the cooperative could increase from $3,740.25 to $6,400 per year.

Building on the momentum and increase in confidence following Mr. Cleaver’s visit, the growing cooperative built fourteen new mushroom growing sheds. These sheds have dramatically increased the quantity of their mushroom production and sales, and has increased the membership and production power of the cooperative.

In an interview, the cooperative Chairman Notis Chishasha expressed the impact of Matthew Cleaver’s assignment by saying, “I am pleased that we did not abandon mushroom farming, because we now are seeing increased income.”

A member of the cooperative, Mrs. Steria Damisoni, also expressed the beneficial effect of the income hike due to Mr. Cleaver’s technical assistance: “[the increased income] gives me enough to pay other people to work in my maize fields.”

As a result of Mr. Cleaver’s trainings, the Chalera cooperative members now have a hands-on understanding of six of the most successful and widely used pasteurization methods, proper pre-pasteurization substrate preparation, appropriate hygiene etiquette, post-inoculation treatment, growing structure care, as well as crop maintenance and improvement. Mr. Cleaver enables the cooperative to develop the tools they needed to significantly scale up their operation and sizably improve household incomes, strengthening livelihoods and building long-term technical abilities.

Mr. Cleaver’s ability to tailor trainings to his audience and imbed long-tern technical skills is a great asset to the communities in which he works. In addition to his multiple F2F assignments in Malawi, Mr. Cleaver engaged in citizen diplomacy upon his return to the United States, conducting over eight hours of outreach through writing a press release, engaging in group presentations about his experiences, and sharing stories and pictures on social media, reaching over 500 of his colleagues, friends and family. Mr. Cleaver would be an ideal recipient for the VEGA Impact Service Award.