The Mushroom Ladies
Often we find ourselves or our borrowers proposing small projects that, while not directly falling into our lending and training focus, provide the spark or catalyst necessary to fulfill our larger mission. The Women's Microfinance Initiataive calls these special projects Nyongeza, a Swahili word for a booster or something that is complementary. Here is the story of one of these projects; it's had a huge impact on the small village of Kibale, Uganda, providing self-sustaining jobs for 22 women in the community.
This summer, our partner Rukundo International asked us to join them in helping some women launch a mushroom cooperative. Joseline, the chairperson of the group, organized the women into working teams to run the project. The ladies spend every afternoon tending to their fungi, having spent the mornings digging in their own gardens and managing their households.
Our $1,000 grant built a mushroom growing structure and purchased 1,000 seeds. The first 200 seeds were inoculated (a process that involves cooking waste from fermented sorghum until it is sterile and then introducing the seeds into the sterile material), placed in plastic bags, and put in a dark room for 21 days until they sprout. After they sprout, the bags are split and tied with strings to the rafters of the growing rooms, where it takes about 5 days before they reach maturity. The first harvest produced 30 pounds of mushrooms. When the substrate is completely used up (which takes several weeks), the bag with the seed is discarded. One bag will usually produce mushrooms for several weeks.
Mushrooms are a very popular delicacy in African cooking. People use them for everything from sauce to stew to stand-alone main dish. They are a cheap source of protein (much less expensive than meat) and contain lots of other nutrients. The upfront capital cost to start growing mushrooms is minimal. Plus, they do not require a lot of land, which is now at a premium in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Down the road the ladies can consider adding value to their product by drying the mushrooms. Dried mushrooms (stored properly) can last over a year and they command a higher price in the market-place.
Our small grant has stimulated the local economy, provided employment to 22 local women, and easily generates profits that will keep the mushroom cooperative viable. While most of your very generous donations go to our loan program, the small grants we also make are critical to keeping locally generated business development strong.
We wish you a very happy Holiday season. WMI does not work alone; our donors share our vision to combat poverty through empowering women and giving them the skills they need to support their families. Thank you so much for your loyal and ongoing support!
On the Way to Market