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Tanzania: Oyster mushrooms save forest and farmers

Tanzania’s Nou Forest lies in the north of the country, surrounded by 18 villages in the Babati and Mbulu districts of Manyara Region. The forest covers 320 square kilometres, but is at risk of disappearing as more and more trees are cut down for farming, grazing livestock, timber, and firewood.

Bernard Sambali is one of the 200,000 farmers who live in the area. Mr. Sambali used to be a vegetable farmer, working on land cleared of trees, but struggled to sell his crop.

He recalls, “I was living from hand-to-mouth. I was not able to save or afford to buy a new pair of shoes.”

But then he was introduced to the oyster mushroom. Mr. Sambali is now growing this mushroom, which earns him a better living and preserves the Nou Forest.

Lawrence Kileo is a Farm Africa program officer who works in the Nou Forest region. He says mushroom farming requires only a small amount of space, so farmers don’t have to cut down trees. Mushrooms also have a short production cycle, requiring only a month to mature, so farmers can earn a profit quickly. And since mushrooms grow in all seasons, farmers can earn a profit all year round.

The forest is an ideal place for mushroom houses, which must be dark, warm, and moist. Mushrooms are about 90 per cent water and, unlike plants, do not require sunlight to grow. Mushrooms can thrive on the moisture produced by the surrounding environment, which means they don’t require irrigation.

Magdalena Gwasuma is also growing oyster mushrooms. Her mushroom house is a small, dark cage at the back of her house. Rows of fresh oyster mushrooms sit on wooden shelves. Just a few years ago, she didn’t even know that mushroom farming was an option. Now she expects to earn 480,000 shillings ($215 US) from mushrooms this year.

The 60-year-old explains, “I didn’t know anything about growing mushrooms at home—I used to get them from the forest. I didn’t know growing mushrooms could be a way of making money.”

While plants grow from seeds, mushrooms start as spores. Mr. Kileo says the demand for mushroom spores in Manyara Region is so high that Farm Africa is training farmers to produce the spores. The organization is also training farmers to process the mushrooms so they can sell them fresh or dried.

Mr. Sambali benefited from the training, and was given spores and bags to kick-start his new business. He mixes the spores with red sorghum seeds, which provide a good source of food for the spores. He then divides the mixture into plastic bags containing agricultural waste, which the spores feed on. He seals and stores the bags, and then the mushrooms start to grow.

He started with 35 bags of mushrooms, which yielded around a kilogram after a month. After feeding his family, he sold the remainder in the market. He can harvest mushrooms every week from his 35 bags.

Mr. Sambali is saving up his extra income to start building a house for his family, so they will no longer need to spend their hard-earned money on rent.

with files from Thomson Reuters Foundation News. For more on oyster mushroom farming, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160718092500-axbva/?source=hpDontmiss [1]