The nutritional and livelihood needs of people is the connection between mushrooms and mountain gorillas. IGCP with financial support from the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration recently embarked on building the capacity of women around Virunga National Park to not only grow mushrooms, but support others to do so as well.
IGCP believes that if human presence in the park for park resources (food, water and medicinal herbs) can be reduced through provision of alternative sources for these resources, then conservation of the mountain gorilla can be realized despite the heavy pressure from neighbouring communities. For the ordinary households around Mikeno sector of Virunga National Park, there is dependence on park resources, one of these resources is mushrooms. The recently funded mushroom project therefore seeks to assist the bordering communities of Mikeno sector in sustainable use of natural resources.
The growing, promotion and production of mushroom “Pleurotus spp” around the Mikeno sector will contribute to food security for communities and generation of additional revenues, while reducing the driver for human presence within the Park, an area protected for the mountain gorillas and its biological diversity.
Mushrooms were chosen because they are a desired food in the area, and one of the resources the community frequents the park for. Growing them outside the park is also feasible and not input intensive. Further, the limited availability and ownership of land around Mikeno sector, makes mushrooms ideal as they can be grown on large scale without necessarily using a lot of space or land. Mushrooms also mature fast and can be consumed after just a few weeks if grown under ideal conditions.
While IGCP and Virunga National Park play an important facilitation and support role, this project is being implemented by a women group, Association des Femmes de Gardes de Rumangabo (AFEGARU). AFEGARU is a well-established women group involved in other conservation and livelihood projects. The group comprising of forty-three (43) members who are largely wives and widows of park rangers has been trained in mushroom growing, and mushroom seed production to enhance their capacity to deliver on the project’s objectives. The seeds produced will be supplied to the community members for propagation at an affordable, community-friendly price.
The group members have already started growing, selling and benefiting from their harvest. Although small and still in its pilot stages, the members are optimistic that the project will boost their household incomes and improve their livelihoods with time, something, they say they had started realizing in an earlier initiative of this project before they were unfortunately disrupted by the conflict period in 2006. Aline Burasa says “we love the project because it is enabling us to raise an extra income for our families, I am even more hopeful that it will change our lives and the entire community when it gets picked up further.”
For the effective implementation of this project, IGCP supported AFEGARU to procure land in Rumangabo Village and is facilitating the construction of a project house and procurement of other project equipment. This house will accommodate the laboratory for seed production, demonstration mushroom ‘gardens’ and the project office. This site will serve as the demonstration site for the larger community and AFEGARU will take the lead in maintaining the demonstration ‘garden’ and educating the community on how mushrooms are grown. The idea is for the community to learn and take up this initiative so as to boost their food baskets and household incomes.
According to Altor Musema, the Country Coordinator for the IGCP in the DRC, the knowledge acquired so far from the trainings has empowered the group members to be better team players towards a common goal. Collaboration and vigilance has been observed during the implementation of project activities. And this group cohesion, according to Musema, will enable the group to realize the project goal and objectives. He explains that a local market exists for the mushrooms. Musema believes that if the community takes up the initiative, they will focus on this community- based activity instead of going through the risky and energy-intensive process of collecting mushrooms from the Park, which he says will definitely reduce human presence in the park with all its related demerits and hence ensure protection and conservation of the mountain gorilla and its habitat in the Virunga Massif.