By FARAI MUTSAKA
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The rainy season in Zimbabwe brings a bonanza of wild mushrooms, which many rural families eat and sell to boost their income.
But the reward also comes with danger, as every year there are reports of people dying after eating poisonous mushrooms. Discerning between safe and toxic mushrooms has become an intergenerational transfer of indigenous knowledge from mothers to daughters. Rich in protein, antioxidants and fiber, wild mushrooms are a revered delicacy and source of income in Zimbabwe, where food and formal jobs are scarce for many.
Beauty Waisoni, 46, who lives on the outskirts of the capital Harare, usually wakes at dawn, packs up plastic buckets, a basket, plates and a knife before walking into a forest 15 kilometers (9 miles) away. distance.
Her 13-year-old daughter Beverly accompanies her as an apprentice. In the forest, the two join other foragers, mainly women who work side by side with their children, combing the morning dew for buds under the trees and dry leaves.
Police routinely warn people about the dangers of consuming wild mushrooms. In January, three girls from a family died after eating poisonous wild mushrooms. Such reports filter through each season. A few years ago, 10 members of a family died after consuming poisonous mushrooms.
To avoid such a deadly outcome, Waisoni teaches her daughter how to identify safe mushrooms.
“She’s going to kill the people and the business if she’s wrong,” said Waisoni, who says she started collecting wild mushrooms as a child. Within hours, her baskets and buckets are filled with tiny red and brown buttons covered in soil.
Women like Waisoni are dominant players in the Zimbabwean mushroom trade, said Wonder Ngezimana, associate professor of horticulture at Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
“Predominantly women have been collectors and normally go with their daughters. They transfer indigenous knowledge from one generation to the next,” Ngezimana told The Associated Press.
They distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous ones by breaking open and detecting “a milk-like fluid coming out” and examining the color under and on top of the mushrooms, he said. They also look for good collection points such as anthills, areas near certain types of indigenous trees and decaying baobabs, she said.
About one in four women who forage for wild mushrooms are often accompanied by their daughters, according to research conducted by Ngezimana and colleagues at the university in 2021. In “only a few cases,” 1.4 percent, the mothers were accompanied of a child.
“Mothers were more knowledgeable about edible wild mushrooms compared to their father counterparts,” the researchers noted. The researchers interviewed nearly 100 people and observed mushroom picking in Binga, a district in western Zimbabwe where growing Zimbabwe’s staple maize is largely unviable due to droughts and poor soil quality. the earth. Many families in Binga are too poor to afford basic food and other items.
Therefore, the mushroom season is important for families. On average, each family earned just over $100 a month from the sale of wild mushrooms, in addition to relying on the mushrooms for their own household food consumption, according to the research.
Largely due to harsh weather conditions, about a quarter of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people are food insecure, meaning they are unsure where their next meal will come from, according to aid agencies. Zimbabwe has one of the highest food inflation rates in the world at 264%, according to the International Monetary Fund.
To promote safe mushroom consumption and year-round income generation, the government encourages small-scale commercial production of certain types, such as oyster mushrooms.
But it seems that the wild ones are still the most popular.
“They come as a better delicacy. Even the aroma is totally different from the mushroom we make in a commercial aspect, so people love them and in the process, communities make some money,” said Ngezimana.
Waisoni, the Harare trader, says wild mushrooms have helped her get children to school and also weather the harsh economic conditions that have hit Zimbabwe for the past two decades.
Their journey into the forest before dawn marks just the beginning of a day-long process. From the bush, Waisoni heads onto a busy road. Using a knife and water, he cleans the mushrooms before joining stiff competition from other mushroom sellers in hopes of attracting passing motorists.
A speeding motorist yelled frantically to warn merchants on the sides of the road to move away. Instead, the sellers charged forward, tripping over each other in hopes of making a sale.
A motorist, Simbisai Rusenya, stopped and said that you cannot pass wild mushrooms in season. But mindful of the reported deaths from poisons, he needed some convincing before buying.
“It looks appetizing, but won’t it kill my family?” she asked.
Waisoni randomly selected a button from his basket and calmly chewed on it to reassure him. “See?” she said, “It’s safe!”