Adopting a New Culture for Food Security


Mushrooms for Food Security

One of the global 2012 SEED Award winners is the "Development Project of Comestible Mushrooms Culture in Rwanda" which was implemented in 2009 by AVVAIS, a local association of vulnerable widowers living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable people living on a low income. The project counts for 420 beneficiaries (80% of whom are women) regrouped in 20 cooperatives around the country.

The project receives funding from UNDP and GEF-SGP, with a prime goal to help the population adopt the culture of growing and consuming mushrooms as an alternative food in the context of small land management and climate change adaptation. In the long run, the project will support the Government
of Rwanda's programmes to alleviate poverty and reduce the number of households dependant on traditional agriculture which usually generates a meager income.

Mushrooms are not a part of the Rwandan gastronomic culture. Traditionally, there are different negative legends about mushrooms among the population, the most common being that if a farmer eats mushrooms, he would lose his cow herds or the cows would stop producing milk. Consequently, only a limited number of people, mainly from urban areas, eat mushrooms; however demand is gradually growing with the blossoming of the tourist industry.

One of the biggest challenges in the agricultural sector is the scarcity of land due to the high density of the population, which currently is 407/Km2 and which results in less than 0.5 ha of land per inhabitant. As a consequence of climate change impact, the country also experiences irregular rains.

One of the project aims is to increase awareness of the nutritional values of mushrooms, such asvitamins, iron, calcium, and proteins. Other advantages include the fact that a small field which usually produces a few vegetables every month, can provide a household with enough mushrooms for food and
revenues weekly (e.g. in 1m2 a family can harvest 75 Kg of mushrooms every 1 or 2 weeks). Another advantage of mushroom agriculture is that they can be planted vertically, thus significantly increasing production and they necessitate considerably less water than other traditional agricultural products.

Highlights

  • 420 project beneficiaries, 80% of them are women grouped in 20 cooperatives
  • Mushrooms are not part of the Rwandan gastronomic culture
  • In 1 square meter a family can harvest 75 Kg of mushrooms every 1 or 2 weeks
  • The project has trained 10 lab technicians to promote local production of mushrooms

Fred Gatare, 23 years old genocide orphan from Rwamagana (South East Rwanda) is in charge of 15 orphans from his family. He received support from AVVAIS while still at school, and after his secondary education, he was trained, through the project, to become a mushroom lab technician, specialized in the production of mushroom seeds. Just as the other beneficiaries, Fred buys from the project mushroom seeds at half the original price for his own home production of mushrooms, which provides for a part of his income. This income allows him to provide for his dependants' needs. He has also been chosen to become the president of the Rwamagana cooperative, where he trains the members in mushroom production, which will allow members from this cooperative to create income generating activities through the production and trading of mushrooms.

The project has taken on a considerable challenge to introduce mushroom consumption within the Rwandan agricultural and gastronomic traditions. Apart from helping vulnerable people, most of whom are women, the project has trained more than 10 lab technicians/trainers to promote local production of mushroom seeds and local business of mushrooms as a product to be probably exported in the future. Aside from reducing poverty, cultivation of mushroom will also help farmers to adapt to climate change and cope with land scarcity.