Volume 19 Part 1 Article 53: Food for the poorest, a case of applied ecology on the African equator

Volume 19 Part 1 Article 53
Year 2016
Title: Food for the poorest, a case of applied ecology on the African equator
Author: Kanyama J., Mwinyi Waziri Y., Lebisabo C., Nshimba Seya wa Malale H., Verfaillie M. and Rammeloo J.

Local food production in the Democratic republic of Congo is a key issue for an ever-increasing population. The country lies in different climatic zones, one of which is the lowland rain forest on the equator. Local transport is strongly hampered by failing route maintenance. Slash and burn agriculture, bush meat extraction and subsidence agriculture are common practice. Mushrooms are strongly appreciated as food by the locals. However, up to now, local markets only sell wild or naturally occurring mushrooms, the offer furthermore being limited by the growing season.

A programme has been set up to select local species that are highly appreciated and easy to grow. Tests have been developed to produce spawn and a programme is set up to spread the growing technology to the local population. The technology has to be easy, cheap, using local resources, and has to be adapted to a very hot and humid climate. Contrary to most places, labour is cheap, and optimising yield is not yet a preoccupation. Selected species have to belong to the local food habits in order to avoid promotion for a locally unknown resource. In the region the main energy resource in the countryside still is charcoal. Avoiding further woodland and tree felling in order to sterilise or pasteurise substrates has to be overcome by selecting aggressive growing fungal species with a very large ecological amplitude, even developing on non sterilised or pasteurized substrates. Attention has been paid in minimising culture waste that cannot naturally composted and disposed of.

The project is still in development. Starting from the inventory of mushrooms on sale on the local markets, it became obvious that one of the best candidates for growing is Schizophyllum commune. S. commune has the enormous advantage of being a species largely used in laboratory experiments, of which the genetic code is well-known, with strong enzymatic capacities, fast growing on a wide variety of substrates, easily dried, , conserved and handled , and, most important, a very palatable species to the local taste, making a good price on the local market. However, taste seems to vary according to the isolate. The set-up of the project, the construction of the spawn laboratory, the construction of a primitive mushroom house, the possible use of bamboo containers for growing, and the local culinary skills in preparing and using Schizophyllum are presented. It became clear that S. commune has a future as an edible species, at least in certain regions of the globe.

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