NWU alumnus Sydwell Sihlangu recently received the 2019 Grassroots Innovation Programme award.


In the spotlight


Sydwell’s mushroom project has been acknowledged by various institutions and has earned him several accolades, including:


  • 2019: Technology Innovation Agency Grassroots Innovation Programme
  • 2018: NWU Leopards Lair Entrepreneurship Competition (second prize); SAB Foundation: Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards (finalist)
  • 2017: North-West Provincial Youth Awards in Agriculture (Best Researched Journal in Scientific Innovation).


He has been acknowledged by the University of Texas at Austin (USA) in their Innovation Readiness Series Programme and received an Honorary Membership Endorsement from the Golden Key International Honour Society in Mafikeng.


The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the United Nations, the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States have invited him to present training workshops.


In the past six years he has trained more than 30 farmers from various countries, including South Africa.


A mushrooming idea

With one in nine people in the world suffering from hunger, an NWU Mahikeng alumnus is looking to mushrooms to improve food security.

More than 820 million people around the world go hungry, according to the 2019 edition of the “Prevalence of undernourishment in the world” report, discussed on the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization website. With this in mind, 34-year-old Sydwell Sihlangu is determined to improve food security through an innovative mushroom project.


Originally part of his master’s research, Sydwell’s innovative mushroom project has now earned him the Technology Innovation Agency’s 2019 Grassroots Innovation Programme (GIP) award.


The award’s R200 000 support package will provide funding and support for his low-cost mushroom production technology, known as the African Hut Mushroom Dome innovation.


How it works


Sydwell’s project involves cultivating oyster mushrooms, usually grown in subtropical regions, in the dry Mahikeng area, using the leftover residue from crop harvests.


His African Hut Mushroom Dome, which is appropriate for smallholder farmers in semi-arid regions, consists of an affordable starter pack for mushroom production. These packs include mushroom spawn, production chambers (domes) with humidifying units, and training material for empowering the farmers.


Becoming an entrepreneur


“I am grateful that my work has secured a place for me on various platforms in the entrepreneurial arena,” says Sydwell, who holds a BSc and an MSc in crop science from the NWU.


“I would like to thank my co-innovator, Dr Khosi Ramachela, from the subject group Crop Science on the campus in Mahikeng, for believing in my work. I am also grateful to the NWU for being the incubator where I could grow and develop my ideas.”


Sydwell and Khosi hope to use some of the funding they have already secured, along with future funding, to refine their project through patenting, product development and commercialisation processes which meet global product standards.


“This will enable mushroom producers to purchase the product from retailers’ shelves as a starter pack anywhere in the world,” says Sydwell.

Currently enrolled at the University of KwaZulu-Natal for his PhD in horticultural science, Sydwell is still exploring the benefits of mushrooms.


His doctoral research is into a medicinal mushroom, Ganoderma. “I'm focusing on coming up with alternative strategies and solutions to combat chronic diseases such as cancer and HIV using this mushroom.”


Did you know?


Mushroom production is influenced by various factors such as growth media and biochemical factors such as plant growth hormones.

Sydwell has investigated the effects of different plant substrates and growth hormones on the growth characteristics and nutrient content of oyster mushrooms in arid and semi-arid regions.





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Sydwell demonstrates how the mushroom domes work.


More about Sydwell


Sydwell has come a long way but home is still Jeppes Reef, a village close to the small Mpumalanga town of  Malelane, where he grew up.

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