More than a Mushroom

Originally published on February 17, 2016.

Judith shows off a harvest from her mushroom farm, which produces mushrooms year-round.
Judith Muro is many things: a Tanzanian, businesswoman, innovator, educator, and scientist. She is also a mushroom horticulturalist and the head of the Dar es Salaam Mushroom Growers Association. In Tanzania, mushrooms are commonly used as a relish in traditional dishes. But, they only grow seasonally. From years of research, Judith knew that mushrooms had nutritional and medicinal value. She also knew that a regulated temperature would allow for year-round growth. So, sought to find a solution.

In 2013, Judith developed an effective mushroom shelter that could regulate temperature for optimal mushroom growth. Made from locally available plants, including bamboo, banana, wheat, rice and coconuts, the shelter made to be accessible for people living urban or rural areas, at a low cost. With the concept developed, Judith received a grant to pilot the innovation from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) program. With this support, she was able to expand her innovation to Morogoro, a region in southern Tanzania. By training women’s groups on how to construct and utilize the shelter on their farms, she enabled them to diversify their crops for consumption and selling.  “Our village is lucky to have this project,” said Janeth, a farmer and training participant. “It is very profitable, and an easy way of making money quickly,” she continued.

A shelter for mushroom growing that is constructed from locally available, low cost materials.
After her first set of trainings, momentum continued to pick for Judith and her innovation. “People are now using mushrooms in a variety of dishes,” explained Judith. “Soups, sauces, pickling and mushroom flour – people are learning to prepare them in different ways.”

Demand for spawns (mushroom seeds) has increased. Due to her success, IGE is in the process of providing an additional grant to Judith to expand the use of her innovation into two more regions (Iringa and Mbeya). With this grant, she will be able to test a spawn business model in partnerships with local farmers. The goal is to establish a suitable supply chain and strengthen the market for mushroom growers. The grant will also support a market survey to understand mushroom demand in different populations.

In 2015, Judith attended the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair, where her innovation got international attention. Representatives from the Ivory Coast invited Judith to train and unveil her innovation to local farmers in their country.

Judith is one example of many women the USAID-funded IGE program is supporting in Tanzania. The four-year program is designed to promote household food security by empowering women in the agricultural sector. The program is achieving this goal by supporting entrepreneurs with locally designed innovations that could reduce women’s work burden or time they spend in agriculture and/or household tasks.

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