The demand for sources of nutrition to feed the world’s population is ever increasing and in order to meet demand. Industries believed they had to make use of genetic modifications or intensify cultivation securing more output per hectare. The amount of waste produced through simple commodities such as coffee is staggering; only a small percentage of the coffee bean is used to brew this beverage. In certain African countries, invasive plant species were becoming a problem and the propositions that were made to eradicate them were absurd. We look at how we can use this omnipresent biomass waste as substrate to produce affordable animal feed and fast- growing mushrooms that could quench hunger while creating jobs, sustainable revenues, food security and empowering women in poverty stricken communities. We can use existing resources to create the winds of change and prevail over malnutrition, creating hope and upliftment where it is most needed.
Keywords: waste, water hyacinth, coffee, mushrooms, animal feed, substrate, food security, sources of nutrition, renewable resources, genetic modifications, job creation, malnutrition, women empowerment hope, upcycling, existing resources
The Power of Mentors
When Mario Calderon Rivera arranged a visit to the Colombian Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero) in 1994 to present the new programme of Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) that I had created at the United Nations University (UNU) with the support of the Prof. Dr. Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, the Rector and the Japanese Government, I was given a mandate to examine the business models of the future in a world were no emissions or waste would exist. Mario Calderon had already introduced me to Paolo Lugari (Case 105), but seeing as I was in charge of designing new economic models that would support the Kyoto Protocol (an agreement by all nations to reduce carbon emissions and to mitigate climate change) that was to be decided three years later in 1997, he wished to impress me with the unexploited opportunities of the Andean Tropical Highlands. Mario was more than a mentor; he was the godfather of my eldest son indicating our close relationship and mutual appreciation.
The Mushroom Entrepreneur
After a long flight from Asia, I was invited to a lunch with researchers and entrepreneurs at an open-air restaurant outside Manizales, Colombia and was seated next to Carmenza Jaramillo who introduced herself as a bankrupt mushroom entrepreneur. Carmenza went on to explain that her company had been declared bankrupt by the court that very morning. She highlighted the difficulty to obtain quality substrate required to grow mushrooms, the complexity of producing compost, and the capital and energy intensity of the cultivation of white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). I had just landed in Latin America from a meeting organized in Beijing (China) by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where food security for a world with 10 billion inhabitants was one of the main subjects for debate. As I listened to the years of dedication by Carmenza Jaramillo, the teams of researchers she had mobilized, as well as the capital and jobs lost, it occurred to me that growing white button mushrooms in the tropical Andean Highlands is as absurd as farming coffee along the French Loire River in greenhouses. While everyone agrees that there is demand for coffee in France and that a cup of coffee at a local café is a grand tradition, no one pretends to have the soil or the climate to farm coffee in France. If anyone tried to achieve this, the venture would be ridiculed since it is likely to fail. The growth conditions are wrong and the costs to adjust the site to the requirements are too high1. If we follow the same logic then it is self-evident that Carmenza had to go bankrupt and the only one who gained money was the Dutch supplier of the hardware.
Genetic Modifications and Limited Nutrition Sources
The lack of ideal soil, climate and crops leads to the demand for genetic modifications to feed the world. If we are only farming a few crops all around the world and expect the same high output under highly varied conditions, then we abstract ecosystems and must apply a powerful cocktail of modified seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to have any chance of success. If, on the other hand, we are prepared to discover the unique conditions that would render local farming highly productive through deploying local biodiversity, then we would create food security and resilience while evolving towards abundance.
In addition to the challenge of limited crop varieties, there is too much narrow focus on grains and meat as sources of nutrition. As long as the focus is solely on wheat, rice, corn and animal husbandry dominated by chickens, cows and pigs, then we are losing numerous opportunities to generate nutrients from widely available, fast growing and renewable resources.
Another challenge is that every food production cycle is considered to be a stand-alone operation. We miss so many opportunities because our competitive models focus on business building relating to core competence. This narrow focus eliminates the chance to cascade nutrients and energy, and renders the overall food generation system inefficient and incapable of feeding everyone in this world. If we were ever able to feed everyone using the present system of chemical and genetic controls, then the low quality of the food would reinforce obesity, diabetes and malnutrition.
Opening a New World of Fungi
From the outset of the ZERI programme at the UNU, we argued that we should use what we have which includes all five kingdoms of nature: plants, animals, mushrooms, algae (Protista) and bacteria (Monera). When I attended the Beijing meeting mentioned earlier and learned to know Prof. Dr. Shuting Chang, he opened a new world relating to fungi. It is hard to avoid speaking about mushrooms once a person grasps the potential for food security and job creation.
Prof. Chang is recognized alongside Dr. Philip G. Miles, the late professor at the University of Buffalo in Amherst, New York, as the leading mycologists who created a new benchmark for mushroom science. They came to know each other in 1978 while Dr. Miles was visiting a professor at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. They published several books together and collaborated in both the science and translation into industrial initiatives, among others, through the World Society of Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products.
At first I could not believe the numbers, but Prof. Chang reported on a two-year study he had undertaken for Kraft Food back in 1994. As the dean of the Department of Biology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong2, Prof. Chang was approached by the American food company to answer what could be done with the massive amount of coffee waste that would emerge in China once the Chinese started drinking coffee. Chinese people are currently drinking large amounts of tea and the tea leaves are discarded. Prof. Chang learned that when coffee is centrally processed, only 0.2% ends up in a cup of instant coffee. Thousands of tons of waste that is left behind by the extraction process of the soluble part is considered waste. When Prof. Chang and his team analyzed the leftovers, both from the farms and the industrial processing centres, and as biologists they noted an excellent oil and unique fibre.
Coffee Waste for Mushroom Farming
Prof. Chang reported to Kraft Food that the coffee grounds represented an ideal substrate for mushroom farming. He delivered a photographic review of the oyster (Pleurotus sp.), shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushrooms that thrive on this fiber-rich material which has been sterilized during the brewing process or extracting the soluble part. Kraft Food thanked Prof. Chang for the report but decided not to proceed with any of his suggestions to convert these unique findings into industrial initiatives. This explains why the message from Colombia landed in very predisposed ears. The story of Carmenza’s bankruptcy and Mario Calderon’s wish to build a new industry around the coffee region that would not substitute coffee but rather embark on diversification within the coffee economy sounded like a chance we all wanted to seriously explore. This builds on the Blue Economy principle that you use what you have and generate more instead of cutting costs and compete on low price. Prof. Chang travelled to Colombia as a guest of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC) and was received by Dr. Jorge Cardenás Gutierrez, the president and Emilio Echeverri (then the administrative vice-president and later the governor of Caldas, which is the coffee hub of Colombia). The reception from the Colombian academic community was overwhelming. CENICAFE, the research institute of the FNC in Chinchiná, was prepared to adopt the research programme of Prof. Chang and apply it to the realities of the tropical Andean Highlands. Scientists from all major universities converged around Carmenza and learned from Prof. Chang; Dra. Lucia Atehortua and Dra. Ana Esperanza Franco from the University of Antioquia; and Dr. Julio Cezar Montoya from Universidad Autónoma de Occidente. Prof. Chang reported that with thanks to the coffee farming and the decentralized structure of production and processing, Colombia could turn into the world’s second largest mushroom producing country after China.
It was a privilege for the emerging network of ZERI to be able to tap into this vast experience with a clear vision about the opportunities and an active network of action- oriented scientists that spanned the world. If I did not have this open and free access to science and implementation, then the ZERI programmes would not have had an early track record of translating science into action, bringing jobs and food security based on existing resources. Since our emerging network was allowed to tap into this open source of knowledge base, we made a commitment to Prof. Chang that we would continue the same generous approach in all our initiatives.
The Impact of Coffee-Based Mushroom Farming on Women Empowerment
The FNC and CENICAFE embarked on a seven-year research programme to test all proposals and hypotheses which currently comprise one of the most remarkable new bodies of knowledge related to mushrooms and the social impact of food production starting with agricultural waste. The power of the research, based both on laboratory tests, field programmes and community farms, is that it combines the biological sciences that include genetics with the social sciences of food security, malnutrition and job creation in city and rural zones. The research clearly demonstrated the impact of coffee-based mushroom farming on women empowerment. All major research institutions in the Coffee Region, especially Dr. Hugo Salazar García, Rector of the University of Manizales, Ricardo Gómez Giraldo, Rector of the University of Caldas, Leopoldo Peláez Arbeláez, Rector of the Autonomous University of Manizales, and Dr. Cezar Vallejo Mejía, Executive Director of the Research Institute of the Coffee Economy formed a solid academic support network. If we fast forward 20 years from the first meetings in 1995, then it is most rewarding to note that the 8th International Medicinal Mushrooms Conference (IMMC8) will be held on 24 – 27 August 2015 in Manizales under the chairmanship of Prof. Chang. Colombia was a country that was nowhere on the world map of mycological sciences and certainly not in the high end of medicinal mushrooms. At the IMMC8, ZERI Network’s first office that was already established in 1994 by Prof. Carlos Bernal as the ZERI Institute for Latin America will publish 22 original articles based on Carmenza’s research papers, partly written in collaboration with Nelson Rodriguez (CENICAFE) and a peer group outlining the insights gained from this initiative. Carmenza and her team were guided by the vision of Dr. Mario Calderon, who by then assumed presidency of the Manizales Chamber of Commerce, to reach out to the “madres cabezas de familia” or mothers in charge of the household. The work in the shanty towns using any available space or building simple shacks with bamboo was initiated with the scientific support of Dr. Sandra Montoya. The initial research work received financial aid from the Soros Foundation and I was able to report back to George Soros about the impact that was generated when we participated in the Al Gore Committee on Solutions for Climate Change in New York in 2006.
This social program was contrasted by the initiatives by the industrial group Síndicato Antioquieño, which under the impulse of Mr. Fabio Rico, then the president of Chocolates de Colombia, decided in 1998 to invest US$17 million in a large-scale mushroom farming facility inspired by the proposals made by Prof. Chang with the aim to produce five tons per day. The sheer size of the investment and the cross shareholding with the EXITO, the supermarket chain unsettled many small scale investments in mushroom farming which were forced to focus on the local market.
The work in Colombia evolved in parallel with the work in Southern Africa and the South Pacific. Prof. George Chan (see Case 101 on urban farming) and Prof. Shuting Chang met for the first time at the same Beijing meeting. As a result, the integrated biosystems of George were always complemented with the very impressive and fast-productive component of mushrooms. While the mushroom farming in Fiji never proliferated, the operations in Southern Africa have left a lasting impact on the continent.
Controlling Invasive Species: The Water Hyacinth Debate
The ZERI Scientific Council for Africa held a meeting in Namibia in January 1996 where discussions focused on the pressing needs of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region to find solutions to control invasive species such as wattle (Acacia adunca), inchplant (Callisia repens), thistle (Cirsium japonicum), primrose bush (Ludwigia peruviana) and the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Prof. Dr. Keto Mshigeni, the vice-chair of the Scientific Council who was the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Namibia at the time; Dr. Osmund Mwandemele who was the dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the same university; and Prof. Athanasius Mphuru who was the dean of the faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Africa University in Mutare (Zimbabwe), decided that the focus must be on the water hyacinth.
Considered an invasive species, the water hyacinth, was originally imported as an ornamental flower from Latin America. Prof. Mshigeni once said, “The colonizers took our coffee to Latin America and gave us water hyacinth in return.” However, this prolific plant is not really the problem; the root cause of its rapid spreading is massive soil erosion that concentrates silted nutrients in river beds and especially in dams, as well as the excessive use of non-soluble synthetic fertilizers that wash off from farm land and end up in water bodies. Both of these problems combined provide a rich flow of nutrients to the wrong places.
The meeting in Namibia resulted in a field visit to the Kariba Dam on the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe in 1996. Prof. Mishigeni and I travelled to Zambia to consult with the Copperbelt University where the United Nations University’s Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU/IAS) had a regional office for local expertise. The observations were surprising: chemicals, including DDT, that were banned around the world would be deployed to kill this invasive aquatic plant. In the event this would not work, an Australian herbivorous beetle (weevil beetle of the Curculionidae super family) would be introduced to eat the floating plants. We were amazed with the misguided solutions because water hyacinth seeds germinate over time (within a decade) which would require the use of these chemicals over a number of years for a lasting effect. The end result would be the destruction of all other aquatic life along with it and there was no answer to the question of what the beetles will eat after they have finished the water hyacinth. No one expected this exotic species to go on a diet or stop procreating.
If one really wanted to deal with water hyacinths, then one should deal with soil erosion and fertilizers instead of killing the plants which are a mere manifestation of the problem but not the root cause. We shared the conclusion that instead of attempting to eradicate the beautiful flower, which thrives on minerals that are lost, we should recover the energy embedded in these plants and transform it through natural processes into food for human and animal consumption. Our findings created a scientific training programme in Zimbabwe that was coordinated by Africa University.
Water Hyacinth: Becoming Preferred Feed and Substrate for Mushroom Farming
The solution we wanted to test was if water hyacinth could be converted into a substrate for mushroom farming. Prof. Mphuru suggested that Mrs. Margareth Tagwira, head of his laboratory at Africa University with a background in tissue culture, would study the options. Prof. Shu-ting Chang agreed to come to Zimbabwe and assess the situation, design a research agenda and offer training. The research output was overwhelming and led to the publication of several scientific papers which baffled nutritional scientists in both the social sciences and in animal husbandry industries. However the results were welcomed by Prof. Dr. Carl-Göran Hedén, MD, Member of the Royal Swedisch Academy of Sciences, who brought the news to the Academy and organized for five years annual updates on the breakthrough findings related to food security. This secured funding from MISTRA, the national Swedish environmental foundation. The hardiest animals in the bush do not eat harvested water hyacinths. However, after farming mushrooms, this biomass turned into a preferred feed. Once Mrs. Margaret Tagwira focused on the mushroom production, the levels of productivity measured by the amount of freshly grown mushrooms on the substrate (dry base) beat all expectations. Since mushrooms digest the substrate and absorb nitrogen and moisture from the environment, the productivity levels could reach 240kg of mushrooms on 100kg of dried water hyacinths. It did not take long for local newspapers to pick up the news and declare an end to hunger in Africa using this invasive species.
The Zimbabwean policy makers did not see it the same way. They were afraid that the success of mushroom farming on water hyacinths would lead to the human-induced proliferation of water hyacinths in all water bodies of the country, potentially causing a breakdown of the water supply for hydropower dams. While trials had been running successfully at the Cleveland Dam in Harare, creating hundreds of jobs for women harvesting the thick carpet of water hyacinths, it was soon prohibited by the administration.
While we understood the danger of the proliferation of water hyacinths, we also knew that importing chemicals, spraying by planes or handling weevil beetles was a major expense that was managed by a few delegates with overseas aid funds, whereas mushroom farming would represent a revenue source for thousands. The second obstacle we heard repeatedly was that Africans do not eat mushrooms. That argument was nothing new as we heard it in Latin America as well.
The African Taste for Mushrooms
It is true that for the past two generations, Africans had lost the habit and the taste of eating mushrooms. Fast urbanization, large-scale deforestation and soil erosion, and the adoption of the colonizers’ food traditions were the reasons behind this. Africa is home to 5000 edible mushrooms and offers 20% of the world’s fungal biodiversity. The only commercialized species is the white button mushroom, or the champignon de Paris (Agaricus bisporus). With the help of our network of scientists in Southern Africa which include Dr. Dawid Abate from the College of Natural Science, Department of Biology, the University of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia); Dr. Kenneth Yongabi Anchang from the Catholic University (Cameroon); and Prof. Eduard Ayensu, president of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana, and the president of the Pan- African Union for Science and Technology, we found that there was not even one spore bank with native mushrooms for commercial use on the whole continent. Director General Federico Mayor Zaragoza of UNESCO and a fellow member of the Club of Rome drew my attention to a UNESCO sponsored study which confirmed that two generations ago 92% of the African tribes used to harvest mushrooms in the wild and dry them to bridge food supply in between two harvests. The abundance of nutrients for farming mushrooms spurred by the sheer volume of water hyacinths, the wealth of biodiversity that has yet to be discovered and the urgent need to embark on a massive programme that provides food and nutrition to poor people in rural and urban settings, lead to the conclusion that the ZERI Network should embark on a broad-based programme to inspire people, share the science, discover the nutrition and develop industrious activities that generate food security and jobs, and provides a perspective of hope. Mrs. Thelma Awori, then the director for Regional Bureau for Africa at UNDP, saw the potential to empower women and encouraged us to proceed along this avenue supported by Anders Wijkman, UNDP’s director of policy and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. While our scientific network quickly found a positive ear among the few mycologists in the region, we concluded that the future of mushrooms in Africa would not be another research programme or the design of another export industry that would merely earn foreign exchange. Inspired by the work of Prof. Shu-ting Chang, we wanted to fully understand the potential for the people by generating jobs and food security. We wanted to figure out how to reach the unreached, starting with the rural communities, where we would focus on food, nutrition, health and hygiene of the proliferating number of HIV orphans. Everyone agreed and our goal was to embark on a fast-track implementation. When you see eye to eye with poverty, you cannot ask those deeply affected to have patience.
China: Mycology Providing Food and Security
I organized a field trip to the Qingyuan (清远) in Guangdong Province (广东;) coordinated by Prof. Shuting Chan. It was an eye opener: a city the same size as San Francisco put 250,000 people to work in inner-city mushroom farming. We went to three of the +100 research institutes in China and I was impressed with the way mycology (the science of mushrooms) had emerged as a widespread know-how with food and security as a single purpose.
While China was exploring the market economy, the world of mushrooms from science to production, marketing and even its exports was highly decentralized. It was therefore decided to pursue a comparable strategy. We learned from China that the key to success lies not in understanding genetics first, but to rather have dozens, hundreds and thousands of farmers embrace mushrooms as a component of their productive life and daily diet.
Moving Forward: Zimbabwean Mushroom Hubs and Academic Degrees
Once we had clarity on the way forward, we bundled our efforts and with the unrelenting support and participation of Prof. Chang, we made early strides forward starting in Zimbabwe. While this was not “an obvious choice” according to many, we wanted to demonstrate respect for the pioneering role of Margaret Tagwira who was supported by her husband Dr. Fanuel Tagwira, who later became vice chancellor of Africa University. Prof. Chang did not wait long to ensure that the key persons we decided to work with received top level and hands-on training in China with thanks to UNESCO scholarships coordinated by Dr. Edgar J. DaSilva from the Paris headquarters. Africa University in Mutare would become the first “mushroom hub”, soon followed by the University of Namibia. Africa University was only established in 1992 and the older University of Namibia needed complete restructuring after the independence and the end of Apartheid in 1990. Cecil Rhodes left his estate in Rhodesia3 to the Methodist Church, which decided to return the land to the Zimbabwean people with an endowment of nearly $100 million to create a university within the next century. The main focus of the new academic institution was to reverse the decades of Apartheid under which Africans were prohibited from obtaining academic degrees in agricultural sciences. This stood at the core of the self-fulfilling prophecy that once the white man left, agriculture would collapse. Both universities decided to focus on food security and created faculties to reverse the planned ignorance. Mushroom farming was adopted as one of the new priorities because of a desire to go beyond the standard farming practices.
Uplifting Orphaned Girls
Margaret Tagwira added a strong social component to the food security plans which was to reach out to orphan girls. With the support of Prof. Chang she went ahead and undertook a research programme and then adapted it to the local resources available and the needs of the people. While Colombia embarked on an investigation of the nutritional value of mushrooms starting with coffee waste streams, Zimbabwe began the programme with water hyacinths and Namibia used spent brewery grains and elephant grass as a point of entry. Mrs. Tagwira created a local network of villagers around Africa University in Mutare to train orphan girls and the first 15 girls spent a few weeks at the Campus. These young girls between 10 and 12 years of age returned to their villages with all the basic skills required to start farming mushrooms themselves. To everyone’s surprise, a few months after the girls completed their training, 13 out of 15 were married. The fact that the girls acquired the skill to produce food increased their “value” on the market, permitting the “uncle custodian” to sell her into a marriage where he would receive 4 to 5 cows in return.
One girl named Chido refused the offer to get married and have a “secure life”. Mrs. Tagwira was very clear in her communications: “This girl with golden green fingers will be forced to marry unless she has a father.” Little did I know that the father was going to be me.
Chido: An Unexpected Journey
When I met Chido a few months later, we came to an understanding: I will be her dad and she will realize her dream to save girls from slavery imposed by uncles and cousins. Over the years Chido emerged as one of the best trainers, reaching out with a unique strength and diligence to women around the world and empowering them to emerge from the role of a victim into the change agent in the local community, resisting abuse through guaranteeing food security. Since Chido was not prepared to leave Zimbabwe, Mrs. Tagwira not only offered to be her foster mother, but also trained her for years in Africa University’s lab to become one of the youngest experts in tissue culture.
Chido was only 16 years old when Poonam Alhuwalia, who had been running the YES Campaign out of Boston (USA) for years, organized the Youth Employment Summit in 2001 at the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya. Half of the UN conference room were in tears when Chido shared with the 2000 guests from around the world that HIV orphans should not be considered victims and they want to be trusted and given a chance to change the face of the world. It was clear that”reaching the unreached” implies an empowerment that is seldom seen if one only talks about children who lost their fathers and mothers. When a strong mind with a clear determination combines the emotions with science and the art of growing mushrooms then we set a powerful transformation process in motion. Chido went on to eclipse the work of her foster mother and with the consent of Fanuel Tagwira, then vice-chancellor of Africa University and a key person in the LEED programme of the Rockefeller Foundation, she started mushroom farming to first secure the food for her small family nucleus comprising her near-blind grandmother and her little brother, earning enough additional funds to finance her brother through school.
Setting Change in Motion
The mushroom farms initiated by Margaret on the outskirts of Mutare would generate revenues through sales on the local markets and reach levels of productivity that would make all professionals blush. It is from this small initiative that we designed a programme that started with Margaret, and later Chido, visiting villagers with the offer to cook a mushroom meal for them. We convinced the people by starting with their palates and when their children gave their thumbs up to loving the taste and sensing the high nutrition, many wanted to know how they could do it themselves.
The Mutare Team organized “mushroom safaris” during the rainy season where they would find wild mushrooms that have been part of the local diet for centuries, applying tissue culture and operating spore banks that supply the mycelium (mushroom seeds) for local production. The farms would spring up and the training technique tailored to the needs of rural communities offered a strong incentive.
Chido decided to go her own way and gained hands-on experience through extended visits to India in 2006, Colombia in 2007 and the design of field projects in Australia with aboriginals. Thanks to working with women from the lowest casts in India and the school children in New Dehli, in cooperation with Development Alternatives (DA) under the assistance of Dr. Ashok Khosla, president of DA and co-president at the time for the Club of Rome, Chido found formidable insight on how the science and art of mushroom farming can blend into culture and tradition, not least in the culinary skills of mothers anywhere in the world. The international outreach crystallized in a series of training programmes that Chido wanted to lead for orphans in Zimbabwe. Thanks to the cooperation with Marianne Knuth of Kufunda Village, Dutch Entrepreneur Robi Valkhof from the Caos Foundation and the network that Chido created over the years, a first series of orphans from Karoi (Zimbabwe) were trained in mushroom farming.
The mushrooms became part of a broader initiative that includes hygiene (a clean environment drives up productivity) and self-esteem. Since so many of the orphan girls had suffered from abuse, mostly from their immediate family members, there was a need to strengthen their emotional intelligence. Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell, the founders of Equator Coffee and Teas, based in San Rafael, California (USA) were keen to promote Chido’s vision in California during her visits and therefore sponsored her project of farming coffee on coffee waste in Tanzania through an organization called Sustainable Harvest. A team headed by David Griswold and Sara Morrocchi secured that Chido could create yet another regional center of production.
The stories spread and the demand for Chido outpaced her available time. She worked in Cameroon, the Congo and Ghana, sharing her experience and building one mushroom farm after the other. The United Nations hired her as an expert and these unique experiences made Chido so versatile that entrepreneurs in the Third World and the industrialized world were prepared to listen and learn from her wisdom.
Nikhil Aurora and Alejandro Velez took their first lessons from Chido to build their Back to the Roots (BTTR) mushroom farm in the San Francisco Bay area in California, working with coffee waste from Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Willem Jan Bosman Jansen, a film distributor in the Netherlands, was inspired by the opportunity and started to base his work on Chido’s core experience by farming mushrooms through the company GRO that collected coffee waste from the restaurant chain La Place, in defunct greenhouses left behind by the bankrupt flower farming industry in Egmont some 60 kilometres north of Amsterdam. It would be too much to mention all of the projects Chido has been involved with. She has her “finger” in at least 200 mushroom farms on 4 continents. Despite her success and influence in shaping a new way of looking at mushrooms, life as an orphan and entrepreneur, Chido always remained keen to learn more.
Animal Feed and Medicinal Mushrooms
Ivanka Milenkovic had published an article in 1998 on animal feed produced from leftover mushroom substrates with Elsevier Science while she was still teaching and researching at the University of Belgrade. She later created her mushroom company Ekofungi outside the capital city and was awarded the “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” in Serbia in 2014. Milenkovic trained Chido on the use of spent substrate from mushrooms to feed animals, especially chickens, expanding the food cycle with a nutrition that was considered to be of no value to humans into a productive cascading of waste to food… and more food. Chido’s interest gravitated over the years towards medicinal mushrooms because many of the orphans and the remote communities she reaches out to also need medicine. I came to know Mr. Han Sheng Hua in Qindao a decade earlier and he invited Chido to learn about medicinal mushrooms at this farm in Hangzhou (China). China has pioneering entrepreneurs and over a hundred research institutes dedicated to mushrooms.
Mr. Han plays classical music (preferably Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) to his Ganoderma lucidum and has demonstrated with years of scientific monitoring that shiitake mushrooms exposed to music grow better. He produces some of the best medicinal mushrooms that are free of heavy metals and are processed by Dr. Robin Tan Mua Li into potent medicine through her company, Primart, in Singapore. The medicinal mushrooms network is tightly knit. The quality of the fungi is often unverified. When I asked Prof. Shuting Chang about the best products he knew of, he immediately referred me to Primart.
I went to visit the processing facilities in Singapore and was impressed at how the Singaporean Government had facilitated the construction of a medicinal mushroom processing unit that was used by various companies. Since Robin and her team only required access for one day a week, the capital investment would be too high for her independent business so sharing the capital equipment allowed the emerging cluster of medicinal mushroom companies in Singapore, including International Advanced Bio- Pharmaceutical Industries, HST Medical Pte. Ltd and Tong De Tang Can Rong Zhong Xin to thrive next to Primart. Thanks to the cooperation of Robin Li and Han Sheng Hua, Chido received intensive training in medicinal mushrooms and is now prepared to return to her passion of providing a livelihood for orphans in Africa.
The Future of Hope
The transformation of Chido from an abused orphan girl into a change agent in remote villages, destitute communities as well as urban cities inspired many people and she was offered support from Rotary clubs (Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Zimbabwe), artists (Koen Vanmechelen in Hasselt) and entrepreneurs to create her own centre in Zimbabwe under the promising name “The Future of Hope”. This title is borrowed from a conference of Nobel laureates I assisted with organizing in 1995 in Hiroshima (Japan). After a series of meetings with Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize 1986), we concluded that the world is losing hope and if there is no hope then there is no future. We brought 12 Nobel laureates together to discuss this trend of societies with pessimistic outlooks, with the belief that little could be done to reverse the negative trends. Asahi Shimbun is the second largest Japanese newspaper headed by Sho Ueno who sponsored the event. Chido and I had our first conversation about her future in 1997 when she was only 11 years old. We concurred that we have to work towards a future of hope and the best way to achieve this was to rescue the girls left behind by their parents due to the AIDS epidemic and to find a pathway to empower them to become change agents in their societies. It would bring hope, provided we had something concrete to show, and that came in the form of simple mushrooms.
The message of the past 18 years had a resounding echo and many inspired themselves in our pragmatic approach. Unfortunately, the name and fame of Chido led to a new form of abuse. A few self-declared social entrepreneurs in Berlin motivated Chido to become part of their new enterprise that was named after her. As time unfolded, Chido realized she had made a wrong choice and felt abused. Her request to change the course of the enterprise, which was based on proprietary exploitation of her know-how and name, led her to embrace specific ethics for business in Europe. Chido’s request to these “social” business partners was only met with insensitivity. Indeed, mushrooms are a profitable business since the raw materials are free, the demand for freshly farmed exotic mushrooms is high. While these painful exploitations driven by investment, profit and egotistical motives are a reality of life, we all enjoy the proliferation of new mushroom farms across the world. The business of mushrooms is mushrooming. There are already 20 school farms throughout Zimbabwe and three times this number of school farms in Delhi. There are around 60 village farms in Ghana thanks to the first programme with AngloGold Ashanti coordinated by Prishani Satyapal in the cities of Obuasi and Iduapriem, and the UNDP promotion in the North of the country. Namibia is a place where no one would have expected the creation and operation of 17 functional farms, making it one example in Africa that continues to expand to Tanzania, Congo and Cameroon. Uganda is the most successful African nation where over 300 mushroom farms have emerged between Entebbe and Kampala. It is with thanks to the work of Prof. Dr. Keto Mshigeni who was directing the mushroom science initiative between 2000 and 2003 sponsored by UNDP, which led to the creation of the Southern African Mushroom network coordinated today by the South Africa CSIR. There are 30 mycologists who have the social dimension of mushroom farming as a core priority.
Prof. Mshigeni also created the first medicinal mushroom research centre at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam, complementing the medical studies with natural medicinal science. Prof. Dr. Kenneth Yongabi Anchang, associate professor at the Catholic University of Cameroon in Bamenda, leads the network in Western and Eastern Africa jointly with Prof. Dr. Dawid Abate who has been instrumental in the creation of around 100 mushroom initiatives in Ethiopia, including special programmes for street children in Addis Ababa.
The strength of the network and the creation of approximately one thousand operations throughout Africa would make many people proud and happy. However, the potential is one hundred times larger and it saddens me that it takes so much time to create a much bigger impact. The missing link is not money but rather passionate people to master the science and who are committed to making a difference on the ground.
This is what motivates Latin American researchers, where the first seeds were also planted by Prof. Chang to embrace a comparable development. Mrs. Carmenza Jaramillo in Colombia is flanked by Dr. Julio Montoya; Dra. Ana Esperanza Franco; Dra. Sandra Montoya Barreto; Prof. Dr. Edgardo Albertó (Universidad Nacional de General San Martin, Argentina); Dr. Angel R. Trigos (Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico); and Dra. Maria Angela Amanozas (Centro Nactional de Pesquisa de Florestas – EMBRAPA, Brazil).
While the original initiative started in Caldas (Colombia), one eager young scientist by the name of Mrs. Francenid Perdomo created over 80 production units on farms in El Huila (Colombia). Luis Martín del Campo from Mexico created the network “Seeds of Hope” under the name “Sporah” and designed the modular business involving regions and cities throughout Mexico. His social enterprise, a real one in heart and soul, relies on the support of large coffee shops like Starbucks, but also works closely with Perla Pacheco Cortez and the network of women entrepreneurs in Mexico (Associación Mexicana de Mujeres Empresarias or AMMJE). This initiative has the personal support of Laura Frati Gucci, the president of the Femmes Chefs d’Entreprise Mondial (World Association of Women Entrepreneurs) and is spreading the initiatives throughout the world, driven by this incredible opportunity to empower women.
Success Beyond All Odds
This case on mushrooms would fill over one hundred pages if each of the entrepreneurs I have been in touch with over the years were given a place. I must apologize for my incapacity to render homage to everyone who deserves attention. In the last section of this case I would like to highlight a few extraordinary people I have come to know over the years. They have inspired me because they succeeded against all odds.
Jasmin and Slay Herro, associated with the Australian Indigenous Minority Supply Council, followed one of my webinars in 2010 and wanted to implement the mushroom farming in their community of aboriginals. Chido offered hands-on training and the programme took off with thanks to the support of Campos Coffee in Sydney and Professor John Crawford, the Coffey Chair in Sustainable Agriculture at the Faculty of Agriculture and the Environment at Sydney University. The European network started in Switzerland in 1997 where Patrick Romanens Romanens Pilz GmbH in Sulgen in the state of Thurgau. Patrick and his production manager Michael Mannale then created Fine Funghi AG. They have steadily grown the business and now supply 100 tons of shiitake and other exotic mushrooms in their farm in Gossau just outside Zurich. Then a network emerged in Spain, inspired by the work in Colombia and the pioneering role of Chido. Iñaki Mielgo and Beltran Orío (Resetea – Setas Responsables or responsible mushrooms www.resetea.es) supported by the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. The Italian team began at the Politecnico di Torino in 2000 with Prof. Luigi Bistagnino and Silvia Barbera who demonstrated at the Slow Food Festival in 2008 how all coffee waste from this unique gathering of 300,000 people from around the world to celebrate local and healthy food could be used to farm mushrooms on site. Patrick et son directeur de production Michael Mannale ont ensuite créé Fine Funghi AG. This sparked hundreds of initiatives and covering all the ones we know would take hundreds of pages. We can state that the mushroom initiatives are mushrooming. Funghi Espresso (www.funghiespresso.com) shows how the most diverse young people can join forces and make it a success: Antonio Di Giovanni (agronomist), Vincenzo Sangiovanni (Oriental languages and architecture), Tomohiro Sato (Japanese entrepreneur in Italy), Camilla Piccinini (one of my students and industrial product designer) and Raffaele Sangiovanni (information expert). Their company in Firenze will feature at the World Expo in Milan this year and will offer yet another platform after we had our mushroom farm at the World Expo in Hannover in 2000. The initiative was supported by the local team of mycologists headed by Nicola Krämer (www.shii-take.de) who had started her mushroom business only a few months before the opening of the expo and enjoyed a tremendous platform during the world exposition.
Cédric Péchard, a former manager at Oracle France, took the time to visit Chido in Zimbawbe and followed the research work of Ivanka in Belgrade. He joined the field visits in Ghana and decided to create the NGO Upcycle (inspired by my book Upcycling published in 1999). He created an urban farm in Paris with the support of ESAT (the French jobs aid programme) producing coffee in containers in the middle of town in cooperation with Fabre Coffee – a subsidiary of Kraft. This closed the loop from where it all started in 1992.
Péchard then established a mushroom operation at the Aigrefoin Farm in Saint-Rémy- les-Chevreuse, integrating people with physical and mental limitations into the productive process. While it took Péchard over a year to fine-tune the process, realizing that the science must be complemented by art, he has succeeded in taking the product to market with a sales price of €13 per kilogram. Perhaps the most important platform in Europe is the conversion of the old tropical swimming pool in the centre of Rotterdam into a mushroom farming and training centre, which became RotterZwam (www.rotterzwam.nl), with “zwam” meaning “mushroom” in Dutch.Siemen Cox, Mark Slegers, Nate Surrett and Melissa van der Beek are connected with the Blue Café, the Bright Future Lab and the Blue Consultants initiated by the network of blue economy practitioners in the Netherlands and spearheaded by Hilke De Wit, Jan Jongert, Patty Kluytmans and Jules Rijnierse under the overall coordination of Charles van der Haegen, the director of ZERI Europe in Brussels.
Coffee to Mushroom Initiative: Job Creation and Revenues
The coffee to mushroom initiative has involved thousands of people, created approximately more than 3000 companies and has mobilized cash investments of around $62 million, with the lowest investments running in the hundreds of dollars and the largest one (in Colombia) generating $17 million. These initiatives only refer to the work that we have been connected and associated with and are totally independent of the large scale mushroom investments in which Prof. Shuting Chang has been instrumental. We know these run into the hundreds of millions of dollars including the world’s largest mushroom farm in Indonesia.
We only reported on our initiatives in Africa, Latin America and Europe, with brief references to India and Australia. We estimate that the number of direct jobs created through these programmes amount to 75,000 for the farming activities. If we include all the indirect jobs from packaging, sales, testing, quality control, processing, drying, cooking and catering then we have to add an estimated 260,000.
There is no doubt in our minds that with this knowledge being made available as an open source and the spirit of going beyond the mere production of a mushroom to place these opportunities in a broader social and ecological context, we can expect that if we have reached 3000 enterprises over 20 years from 1995 – 2014, then we can reach at least 50,000 over the next 20 years. It does not make sense to pursue burning coffee waste to create power and safe energy. While we applaud composting, there are better options than to stress out earthworms in compost bins with caffeine when we can secure so much food and spin-off effects. One million tons of coffee waste at an industrial site will generate at least 500,000 tons of protein and at least €5 billion in revenues at only €1 euro per kilogram, providing half a million jobs.
The time has come to realize that we can evolve from our desire to reduce impact on the environment into a pro-active engagement where we will do more good for people and provide cheap feed for animals. Indeed, this is upcycling and upsizing, generating more with what we have helps us meet many of the social and ecological objectives more than we could imagine. Now this is the Blue Economy in practice: do more with what you have and be surprised by what you did not know.
Translation into Gunter’s Fables
The business of mushrooms has inspired me from early on to write three fables: fable # 10 “Colombian Champignons” dedicated to Mario Calderon Rivera, #14 entitled “Shiitake Love Caffeine” dedicated to Carmenza Jaramillo, and #23 The Smart Mushroom, dedicated to Shu Ting Chang. They inspired the creation of this cluster already back in 1994 with my discussions on mushroom farming from agricultural waste.