New income from marvellous mushrooms for Nou Forest farmers

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th July 2016

In northern Tanzania’s Nou Forest, international development charity Farm Africa is introducing oyster mushroom farming to enable local farmers to diversify their income-generating activities in an environmentally friendly way so that they no longer have to turn to timber production and other activities that are damaging to the forest to earn money.

Farmer Magdalena with her

mushroom solar drier

Tanzania is experiencing one of the highest rates of deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa, due largely to people felling trees for timber and firewood, and clearing land for livestock and farming. Mature forests such as the Nou Forest have a vital role to play in protecting soil from erosion, purifying air and water, and helping control climate change by absorbing and storing carbon. When the forest is logged or burnt, not only does carbon absorption stop but the carbon stored in trees and other vegetation is released into the atmosphere, increasing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and accelerating the rate of climate change. 

Magdalena, a 60-year-old mother who has lived in the Nou Forest all her life, is one of hundreds of smallholder farmers in the area who have taken up oyster mushroom farming as an environmentally friendly and dependable source of income. She explains, “In recent years the rains have become more unreliable and this change in weather patterns has affected our agricultural production as we have experienced low crop yields and a shortage of water for livestock and for domestic use. Before Farm Africa introduced us to mushroom farming we were not thinking of it being one of our income-generating activities but having started now we see it has so many benefits.”

“Farm Africa has assisted us in knowing the importance of conserving our environment through Participatory Forest Management and we have become less dependent on the forest’s resources because we are able to earn a good income from other sources. Farm Africa has enabled us to have more livelihood options through mushroom farming instead of depending only on crop cultivation and livestock keeping.”

Mushrooms have traditionally been eaten in northern Tanzania but were picked growing wild rather than farmed. Magdalena explains, “Before we used to get mushrooms from the forest and didn’t know anything about farming them at home as a business, we didn’t understand that growing mushrooms could be an income-generating activity.”

Mushroom farming has a wide range of advantages. Cultivation only takes up a small amount of space so it doesn’t require much land and can be done at home, which particularly benefits women with childcare responsibilities. Mushrooms also have a short production cycle so can generate profit in a short time, and they are not seasonally dependent so can be produced throughout the year.

Magdalena says, “Now we have been trained on mushroom spores production, farming procedures, post-harvesting measures and packaging. We have also been supplied with a range of equipment including mushroom solar driers, spores, planting and packaging materials, and supported with certification of products and accessing markets for our products.”

Thanks to funding from the EU, Farm Africa has been able to train over 700 farmers in mushroom production, including teaching them how and where to build their own mushroom houses. Forest ecosystems lend themselves well to mushroom production and agricultural experts work with farmers to select the optimum place to build their houses, which must be dark, warm and moist. The moisture generated from the surrounding environment means that mushrooms don’t require additional irrigation, which has the added bonus that farmers don’t have to spend time watering.

Farmers are trained in processing techniques so the mushrooms can be sold either fresh or dried. In addition, Farm Africa has established a processing and collection centre where farmers can come together to sell their mushrooms, thus giving them better access to markets and greater bargaining power. Mushrooms are sold in local markets and earn a good profit, selling for around 6000 Tanzanian shillings (around £2) per kilo fresh.

For Magdalena, taking up mushroom farming has made a huge difference to her and her family. She explains, “Farm Africa has opened our eyes and now we are good producers of mushrooms.  We are generating an additional 480,000 TZS (£167) from mushroom farming per year and it is our biggest single source of income*. With the extra money we have been able to send all our children to school, improve our diets and afford medical costs. We have also been able to improve our home and invest in our business.”

“As a woman, mushroom farming has been important to me because today I am able to contribute to the household income whereas previously this was my husband’s responsibility. In the future I plan to increase our mushroom production and access more profitable markets so we can improve our income and our lives further.”

For more information please visit www.farmafrica.org or follow us on Twitter @FarmAfrica.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th July 2016

New income from marvellous mushrooms for Nou Forest farmers