Our mushrooms farm at Nakivale

Unidos are in the early stages of an exciting journey to find further sustainable solutions to soil regeneration and put an end to malnutrition here at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Uganda.

With 46% unemployment here in camp, the community has had to rely heavily, in recent years, on humanitarian aid as a food source. A large percentage of the population (36%) are farmers still struggling to grow their food amidst climate change induced by extreme weather. This means that only a very small minority of residents can afford two meals per day, leaving a staggering majority eating only one meal per day. This is unthinkable and not sustainable for a growing population.

Our team at Nakivale has decided to take matters into our own hands. The Mushroom Project; a key step towards regenerative practices and food production; will play a major role in long term food security for all of our residents here at Nakivale. 

Mushrooms are highly nutritious and can serve as a valuable food source, as well as functioning as a natural soil regeneration tool. They are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, so that everyone can enjoy a healthy, tasty meal; relying on a consistent food source that won’t damage the land they require to grow food all year round.

Growing mushrooms in refugee camps, like Nakivale, provides a sustainable and nutritious food option, helping to combat malnutrition, especially for children and young people who need nutrients for healthy growth. Their consumption will also improve the overall health of all people living here, meaning that this simple innovation can have exponential benefits for people of all ages.

Why Choose Mushrooms As a Project at Nakivale?

Mushrooms are radical and innovative by nature. Just a single hyphal strand – a branch of new growth growing from the fungi – can regrow and regenerate an entire colony of mushrooms. By documenting accessible mycological techniques and low-tech methods on how to grow mushrooms in displaced communities, we aim to lift our families and community out of hunger, whilst being part of a movement that could help empower people the world over to achieve the same.

Fungi, or ‘mushrooms’ enhance nutrient uptake in the soil, ensuring better growth and overall soil health. This is particularly related to an increase in phosphorus, nitrogen, and other micronutrients, improving plant growth and the overall soil health and structure.

With the continued growth of mushrooms, we will see an enhancement in the soil’s ability to retain water. It will also stay aerated and healthy – something that the earth at Nakivale has long since been without.

How Will Mushroom Growth Benefit the Soil?

Fungi are excellent decomposers, breaking down organic matter in the soil into simpler forms that plants can readily absorb. This decomposition process releases nutrients back into the soil, enriching it and improving its fertility. Examples of decomposer fungi include saprophytic mushrooms like oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms.

The mycelium of the mushrooms (the root-like network of the fungi) helps bind soil particles together, improving soil structure and preventing erosion. This enhances soil water retention and aeration, crucial for plant growth. It will really be a miracle here at Nakivale – not only for growing fungi long-term, but for growing other types of food that will help sustain the families and residents that dwell at Nakivale.

Combating Climate Change with Fungi

Fungi grown at Nakivale will play a crucial role in the decomposition of organic matter, such as plant debris and animal remains, that already exist within the soil. During decomposition, the fungi will break down complex organic compounds into simpler forms, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. 

A significant portion of the carbon is retained in the soil as fungal biomass or as stable organic matter. This process helps to sequester carbon in the soil, effectively removing it from the atmosphere and mitigating CO2 levels, which contribute to climate change.

So, mushrooms grown at our encampment will help to mitigate our carbon footprint, and help the environment, as well as feeding our people and regenerating our soil. This miracle food is the perfect choice to grow here at Nakivale.

What Other Ways do Mushrooms Benefit Our Community?

Various fungi have specialised abilities to decompose specific organic materials. However, leveraging fungal diversity enables the utilisation of a wide range of substrates for mushroom cultivation; including agricultural residues, like sorghum straw, millet straw, rice straw, legume trash, and waste materials that are easy to recycle and to find at a low cost at Nakivale.

As we mentioned earlier, mushrooms play a role in carbon sequestration by storing carbon in their mycelium and fruiting bodies. This helps mitigate climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, regenerating the soil by controlling harmful organisms This reduces the need for chemical pesticides, and promotes a healthier growing environment for anything we may wish to plant and grow.

Who Maintain the Project?

The most involved in this project are women refugees and those from the host communities. Their role is to promote peace and co-existence between all refugees here at Nakivale and the host communities, which will allow for collaboration and a wider uptake of our tried and tested solutions. 

They have been trained by our team at Unidos Projects and learned how to produce mushrooms in a regenerative way using local materials. We have had a large amount of interest in our projects so far, as they mean that their families can eat nutrient-rich food and create work for themselves at the same time as they generate income through Mushroom production. This means they can be financially independent, and lead healthier lives together.

We monitor and evaluate this project based on the following indicators: the number of people who have been trained in mushroom growing, the number of women successfully growing mushrooms following the project, and the change in the percentage of women taking part who feel empowered to provide for their families after the project (vs. the benchmark recorded before the project). We will monitor all of this through regular data collection, where we will regularly check up on the health of the soil in correlation with the yield of mushrooms that we grow.

Project Leader Mariam Antoine said, “We want to encourage cooperation not competition, which is a challenge in the reality of a refugee camp. Fungi work together and with other plants and animals to survive and we plan to work with mushrooms and each other to regenerate our families, our societies and our minds in the face of our most challenging moments in life.

We sincerely look forward to discovering more about mushrooms and the impact they will have – not only on soil regeneration, but on the lives of the people here at Nakivale. We hope to inspire other communities with the blueprint for success in the near future. We invite you to stay tuned on our social media channels to find out more about how our Mushroom Project is doing in the coming months.

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