Zimbabwean women make money making more room for mushrooms.

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  • “Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom”, says Thomas Carlyle.
  • These arty yet nourishing fungi are found in generous quantities in Zimbabwe.
  • Separating the edible ones from the poisonous ones is a vital skill.

 

In Zimbabwe, a group of women defy the odds in their search for mushrooms. A rich source of antioxidants, protein, and fiber, wild mushrooms have become a cherished delicacy as well as an income source in Zimbabwe, and these native women who are armed with the skill to tell edible and poisonous mushrooms apart, in wee hours, dutifully collect just enough mushrooms to push out for sale. These women, when they have gathered the mushrooms in marketable numbers, run to meet trucks on the Harare-Bulawayo highway hoping to persuade drivers to buy beautiful wild mushrooms from their harvest.

 

                   

 

The native women painstakingly scan through the land, identifying what type is good enough for their target market. But they must do so before sunrise because landowners may not be so welcoming. Diana Chiwara, a native mushroom picker said “this is the bush where we pick mushrooms, we wake up early morning around past 3 am and walk deep into this bush. We can’t come late in the day because it’s restricted to be in this place. The owners of this place don’t always allow people to come and pick mushrooms here. So, we come early and will be hiding from them, so that by the time it’s lunch time we are already leaving.”

 

Chiwara’s trip before dawn to the forest is just the first of several steps in the day-long process. She moves from the bush to a busy highway. She tidies up the mushroom, cleaning and scrapping where necessary, using a knife, then she joins the strong struggle involving other mushroom sellers; she is in competition, eager to entice passing motorists. Knowing what mushrooms to sell is a vital skill for this trade as several thousands of varieties exist.

                         

 

Not all the varieties are safe for use. While some are quite good for food like shitake, portobello, and the more popular ones sold in supermarkets, several other wild mushrooms can be gravely poisonous, causing stomach upset or other allergic reactions that could cause harm to the body. Expert knowledge as well as some trainings are necessary to learn which ones are edible. People who do not have the training are not to try picking mushrooms for human consumption. So, mothers in this African nation, who have been drilled on the fields and have also received handed-down trainings, pass down the requisite expert knowledge and training needed to their daughters, and the chain goes on.

 

 

One of the natives, Polite Mugobo, on her way out to collect mushrooms with her husband and son, spoke about mushroom picking, she says ‘’sometimes we meet thugs, and they steal everything from us. Sometimes the farm owners chase us from their land. So, we try to do this while hiding, it’s tough. We also have to be careful so that we don’t get attacked by dangerous wild animals.”  This family rakes through the land, defying the early morning dew, a task bigger than faint hearts. They screen litters of dry leaves and look under trees for shoot-ups. They gather enough, clean them up, and arrange them for sale. We sell this mushroom for US$1 a bowl like this during the rainy season. Our customers regularly stop on highway to buy mushrooms. On a good day or during the weekend we go home with about US $20 – $15 each,” Mugobo said.

 

 

 

An associate professor of horticulture at the Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology, Wonder Ngezimana, while speaking about the mushroom trade said that women like Mugobo are foremost players in Zimbabwe’s mushroom trade, “Predominantly women have been gatherers and they normally go with their daughters. They transfer the indigenous knowledge from one generation to the other,” she says. According to a research by Ngezimana and some of her colleagues at the university in 2021, about one in four women who search for wild mushrooms usually go with their daughters, save for “just few cases”  where the boys came along. About 1.4% of the boys follow their mothers to pick mushrooms, “mothers were better knowledgeable of wild edible mushrooms compared to their counterparts – fathers,” the researchers theorized.

 

 

The researchers conducted an interview with about a hundred people and meticulously observed mushroom collection in the district of Binga, western Zimbabwe, where Zimbabwe’s staple food, maize, suffers from droughts and poor land quality making it quite unviable in the district. So mushroom season is vital for the native families. According to the research, averagely, each family makes just above $100 a month selling wild mushrooms, even as they rely on the fruitful fungi for their own domestic subsistence. Though mushrooms are fast becoming key to household use, authorities routinely advise the people on the dangers of eating wild mushrooms.

 

In order to encourage safe mushroom consumption and income generation all year round, the government is backing small-scale profitable production of select types healthy for consumption like the oyster mushrooms. But the popularity of the varieties of wild mushroom are not waning at all.

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