BY TATENDA MACHEKA
A sad consequence of the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic hitting Zimbabwe is the growing prevalence of urban hunger over the past year. According to government estimates, about half of all residents in urban areas — around 2,2 million people — go to bed hungry every night.
Across the globe, the World Food Programme (WFP) is investing ever more in empowering people in urban areas to withstand emergencies that may develop.
In Zimbabwe, which has a population of nearly 15 million people, WFP complements its humanitarian assistance through cash grants to build skills within communities and ultimately to enhance people’s food security over the longer term.
In Epworth, a suburb on the eastern outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, money received from WFP has enabled one group of women to set up a mushroom farm.
The women are part of a vulnerable community with acute needs that needs urgent attention.
After the initial cash transfer, mushroom farming was identified as a quick and effective intervention that could easily be expanded into a long-term self-sustaining project.
It is not labour-intensive and requires little space, with a backyard sufficient.
Harvesting can be done in around three months, using byproducts of other activities such as crop leaves to help nourish the vegetable, and locally available resources like grass, thereby making the enterprise cost-effective.
Crops people do not consume can be sold, generating additional income.
Mushrooms are a source of antioxidants and rare nutrients such as selenium, folate, vitamins B1, B2, D and potassium. They are easy to grow — along with seeds, you only need agriculture waste, which is always available in the form of wheat straw, cottonseed husk and maize cob.
With the right balance of humidity and temperature, production is simple.
They take 30 days to mature before harvest and allow for swiftly replenished yields. Each grown bag yields up to four times before it is discarded.
Caroline Changaruka, a widow and mother of seven, is part of the group of women who have a mushroom backyard hub at their house.
After being instructed at a training centre, she was part of the group of women selected to replicate the lessons learnt at her home.
“Before this mushroom farming, I used to do manual labour in nearby farms and it was taking a toll on me. Life was difficult, there is no employment here,” she says. “We used to skip meals; some of my kids had to drop out of school so that the younger ones could get the same chance.
“The training has been a lesson of life, a skill that I will always have forever. This has been both a food and income provider for my family. I am doing the production right here in my backyard and it’s paying dividends.”
Changaruka says the plan is to turn her mushroom production into a bigger business.
“The type of mushroom we are growing is grey oyster, which is very rich in protein and has a readily available market. When production is high, some of the mushroom is dried and preserved for future use,”she says.
Mushroom farming will provide both a source of nutrition and income to these vulnerable households beyond the cash assistance programme.
To date WFP, through Denmark’s Dan Church Aid and the Future of Hope Foundation, has trained more than 700 women in mushroom production.
Supporting communities with cash grants alone is not sustainable, however.
With funding from ECHO, WFP has helped to strengthen the livelihoods of the most vulnerable and high-risk communities.
Mushrooms are used in many cuisines throughout Zimbabwe.
- Tatenda Macheka is the communications specialist for the WFP in Zimbabwe.