Benefits of MushroomsMany people recognize mushrooms these days as a trending health topic, but the benefits of mushrooms reach far beyond its popularized portrayals of a healthy supplement to add to one’s morning coffee. The perspectives of several renowned scientists and organizations with focuses on international development have proven that mushrooms are substantial in their medicinal properties, disease control, agricultural and malnutrition solutions and much more.

Mushroom Medicine

Paul Stamets is a mycologist who people know for his research and advocacy of the various benefits of mushrooms. Some of his most important unearthings include a new class of antivirals and antimicrobials called Fomitopsterols which is more potent in treating flu viruses and herpes than Ribavirin is.

By working with the Bioshield Biodefense Program, Stamets confirmed that Agarikon, the longest living mushroom in the world, has anti-tubercular properties. In addition to this, Stamets worked to study the effects of turkey tail mushrooms, which can empower the immune system, on women with breast cancer suffering from impaired immune systems. His studies showed that these mushrooms can enhance natural killer cell activities in women.

Meanwhile, the Amadou mushroom is a useful source for sustainable textile innovations. Amadou can become a cellular fabric when one boils it. People can also use it to keep a fire burning for days by hollowing out the mushroom and putting embers inside.

Disease Control

Vector-borne diseases have a close association with poverty due to their large economic impact on growing populations in urban settings. As a result, they often affect some of the poorest countries.

Insecticides are becoming ineffective in Brazil due to a growing resistance in mosquitos. Many homes in Brazil require water storage tanks due to insecure water supplies. These tanks are also major breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Researchers in Brazil have discovered that using only a plastic bottle and a black cloth containing an entomopathogenic fungus can be an effective way of countering mosquitoes. The mosquitoes become attracted to the dark cloth surface and become infected with the fungus, killing the mosquito.

Stamets had another breakthrough revelation when he took the mycelium of Cordyceps without the spores and discovered that they became super attractants. One of the most significant studies involved the attraction of yellow fever mosquitos. This discovery has profound potential for disease control by steering insects from human populations, controlling diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus (WNV).

Alternative to Poaching

Poaching is a common consequence of poverty in Thailand. Freeland Foundation’s Surviving Together program encourages sustainable mushroom farming to replace poaching and illegal logging. The program leaders collect the mushrooms that the villagers cultivate and sell them at local markets. The money that comes from the mushrooms then goes into bank accounts for the farmers to save and grow their businesses.

Freeland Foundation described mushrooms as the most fitting crop choice for the villagers because it is in high demand throughout the year in Thailand. The mushroom business is providing opportunities to those who originally thought they had no alternatives.

This program provides protection to natural forests and prevents the loss of biodiversity. The families who once felt that they had no options are now contributing to saving ecosystems.

Solving Malnutrition

Recent success at Compassion, a child development center in Lomé, Togo, models how the benefits of mushrooms reach great depths. The development center had been struggling to find the definitive answer to meet all of its children’s needs. The support that the center was receiving to feed the children did not cover the abundant number experiencing malnourishment.

With the help of Critical Needs funding, the center started a mushroom farm which became a fundamental answer to resolving a crucial problem. These mushrooms provided nutrition to the children and replenished their health while remaining cost-effective and sustainable.

Thanks to the center’s mushroom farm, the children have been able to receive lunch and take-home packets each day. The center uses the remaining mushrooms to grind as an addition to a nutrient-rich porridge.

With an increase in enrollment, all the children attending the center have become a healthy weight. The center also gains advantages in funding and employment opportunities with the surplus of mushroom products that it makes and sells locally.

Anyone can easily realize and appreciate the benefits of mushrooms. However, the extent that they can make a difference for people in need around the world may go far beyond what most realize.

Amy Schlagel
Photo: Pixabay

mushroom farming combats povertyIn the United States, mushrooms pop up on pizzas, in salads and as a side to any number of popular dishes. Most people do not give much thought to where the fungus on their fork came from. However, mushrooms are not an afterthought to many around the globe. Indeed, mushroom farming combats poverty globally, providing both a source of nutrition and income.

How Mushrooms are Farmed

Unlike most crops, mushrooms are not grown in a field. Instead, these edible fungi thrive in dark, warm places. Thus, many people farming mushrooms on a small scale do so in their homes or in an outbuilding.

Mushrooms thrive off decaying vegetation and other agricultural waste, and they can be raised in stacked beds, making them fairly low maintenance, especially compared to fruits or vegetables. They can also grow three times as quickly as some other crops, so they provide a steadier source of food or income.

Successfully cultivating mushrooms can yield a return of up to four times the initial investment. Additionally, mushrooms are a source of “potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron” as well as fiber and protein. This makes them an adaptable and potent tool in fighting malnutrition.

Successes in East Asia

Mushrooms provide an alternative income source for many women in Bangladesh. One such woman is Kajal. At a young age, both her legs were paralyzed. After she married, Kajal discovered Access Bangladesh, an initiative designed to teach disabled people practical skills they could use to earn money.

One such skill was mushroom cultivation, which provides Kajal and her family around 3,000 taka ($35) monthly. For a country with a GDP per capita of around $1,200, this additional income can be a deciding factor in a family’s subsistence. With funding from Canada, the Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity Project and Access Bangladesh have helped nearly 600 people learn mushroom cultivation, around 300 of whom are women.

In Nepal, mushrooms possess the power to play a critical role in alleviating poverty. However, many communities lack the key resources needed to successfully cultivate mushrooms. These resources include sufficient upfront investment, current technologies and high-quality mushroom spawn.

To address these barriers, PHASE Worldwide, an NGO operating in Nepal, provides high-quality mushroom spawn and teaches cultivation methods to impoverished communities. In addition to their work with mushrooms, PHASE has trained more than 1,000 farmers in vegetable cultivation.

A Growing Market in Africa

As in East Asia, mushrooms are helping farmers in Africa combat poverty and create sustainable agriculture. In Rwanda, Laurent Demuynck, a former New York brewery operator, started Kigali Farms in 2010. His goal was to create a commercial mushroom enterprise in Rwanda. African mushroom farmers commonly ran into trouble with low yield and high costs, something Demuynck wanted to solve. Kigali Farms started growing oyster mushrooms, and in 2016, USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative partnered with Kigali to establish button mushroom production as well. Today, Kigali Farms is exporting mushrooms to Kenya and Uganda, as well as selling them locally.

One input needed for mushroom cultivation is straw, which Demuynck purchased from local wheat farmers, mainly women. This proved a boon for the wheat farmers since the straw left over after the harvest had previously held little value. USAID assisted in the effort and established three collection centers for farmers to store their straw before selling it to Kigali.

How Mushrooms Made One Girl Famous

In Tibet, matsutake mushrooms—one of the most valuable mushrooms in the world—grow at elevations of 13,000 feet or more. Faced with increasing bills, Geru Drolma went searching for matsutakes and live-streamed the search. That video received a large number of views in a short period of time and requests for matsutakes and cordyceps, another type of fungus, poured in.

This led Drolma and other villagers in her remote Tibetan community to set up a cooperative. They made more than $500,000 harvesting fungi in their first year. Drolma’s initial mushroom video also led her to concentrate on filming and posting snippets of Tibetan life. She has garnered 1.9 million followers since then.

Mushrooming Success

People like Laurent Demuynck and Geru Drolma all started with an idea that grew into something that impacted those around them. Additionally, initiatives in Bangladesh and Nepal also helped kickstart similar ideas. Thanks to ideas with backing, East Asian and African mushroom farming combats poverty at an extremely successful rate.

– Jonathan Helton
Photo: Pixabay