Rainy season in Malawi is also mushroom season, but only when we take care of the natural environment. Many mushrooms depend upon the diverse ecosystems of forested areas to propagate, grow, and thrive. Unfortunately, many of Malawi’s forested areas are becoming extremely depleted. It has been estimated that deforestation is now responsible for the loss of 33,000 hectares per year, and is mainly attributed to agriculture expansion, tobacco growing, and excessive use of biomass. This deforestation leads to many problems, including the loss of habitat for mushrooms, making them harder to find and more expensive to buy.
There is a certain species of edible mushroom which is found throughout Malawi, called ‘termitomyces‘ (basically ‘termite mushroom’). This unique species has developed a symbiotic relationship with a type of termite found throughout the region, known as macrotermes. These termites actually ‘farm’ the termitomyces fungi, which helps them to break down the cellulose and lignin in organic matter. In return, these fungi erupt into large crops of mushrooms each year throughout the country. Many varieties of termitomyces mushrooms are edible, and contain medicinal properties. There are currently 47 recognized species of termitomyces found throughout the world, and 20 edible species have been found throughout Africa and Asia.
Here at Never Ending Food, we have found that by restoring natural ecosystems and soil health through the use of mulch, compost, and Permaculture Guilds, we are also seeing the return of mushrooms. This week, we had an eruption of hundreds of a small edible mushrooms called Termitomyces microcarpus. A study conducted in China on 13 edible wild mushrooms found that Termitomyces microcarpus had the largest amount of essential amino acids. Amino acids are molecules that form proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from plants. It’s a very rewarding feeling when the ‘building blocks of life’ spring up from healthy soil for free!