During the rainy season in Zimbabwe, women collect wild mushrooms
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s rainy season brings a boon of wild mushrooms, which many rural families feast on and sell to supplement their income.
But with the bounty also comes danger because every year people die from eating poisonous mushrooms. Discernment between safe and toxic mushrooms has evolved into an intergenerational transfer of indigenous knowledge from mothers to daughters. Rich in protein, antioxidants and fibre, wild mushrooms are a revered delicacy and a 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 up at dawn, packs plastic buckets, a basket, plates and a knife before hiking in a forest 15 kilometers away (9 miles).
His 13-year-old daughter, Beverly, is in tow, as an apprentice. In the forest, the two join other gatherers, mostly women who work side by side with their children, raking the morning dew for shoots under the trees and dried leaves.
The police regularly warn people of the dangers of eating wild mushrooms. In January, three girls from one family died after eating poisonous wild mushrooms. These reports filter through each season. A few years ago, 10 family members died after eating poisonous mushrooms.
To avoid such a deadly outcome, Waisoni teaches her daughter how to identify safe mushrooms.
“She’ll kill people and the company if she’s wrong,” said Waisoni, who says she started picking wild mushrooms when she was young. Within hours, her baskets and buckets fill with little red and brown buds covered in dirt.
Women such as Waisoni are dominant players in the mushroom trade in Zimbabwe, said Wonder Ngezimana, associate professor of horticulture at Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology.
“Most of the women have been pickers and they normally go with their daughters. They transfer indigenous knowledge from one generation to another,” Ngezimana told The Associated Press.
They distinguish edible mushrooms from poisonous mushrooms by breaking and detecting “a oozing milk-like liquid” 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 native trees and decaying baobabs, he said.
About one in four women who pick wild mushrooms are often accompanied by their daughters, according to a study conducted by Ngezimana and her university colleagues in 2021. In “only a few cases” – 1.4% – mothers were accompanied by ‘a boy.
“Mothers were more knowledgeable about wild edible fungi than their counterparts – fathers,” the researchers noted. Researchers interviewed nearly 100 people and observed mushroom picking in Binga, a district in western Zimbabwe where growing Zimbabwe’s staple food, maize, is largely unsustainable due to droughts and poor land quality. Many Binga families are too poor to afford basic foods and other items.
Mushroom season is therefore 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 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 don’t know where their next meal will come from, news agencies say. ‘aid. 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 savages remain the most popular.
“They come as a better delicacy. Even the aroma is totally different from the mushroom we commercially make, so people love them and in the process communities earn money,” Ngezimana said.
Waisoni, the trader from Harare, says wild mushrooms have helped her send her children to school and overcome the difficult economic conditions that have plagued Zimbabwe over the past two decades.
His pre-dawn journey into the forest marks only the beginning of a day-long process. From the bush, Waisoni heads to a busy highway. Using a knife and water, she cleans the mushrooms before joining stiff competition from other mushroom sellers in hopes of attracting passing motorists.
A speeding motorist honked frantically to warn shopkeepers on the sides of the road to keep away. Instead, sellers charged forward, tripping over each other in hopes of closing a sale.
A motorist, Simbisai Rusenya, stopped and said he couldn’t pass the seasonal wild mushrooms. But, aware of the reported deaths from poisons, he needed convincing before buying.
“Sounds appetizing, but won’t it kill my family?” He asked.
Waisoni randomly picked a button from his basket and calmly chewed it to reassure him. “You see ?” she said, “that’s for sure!”