For a group of 380 students in a small community in Togo, mushrooms have become a miracle food. They’re mixed into the porridge they eat for breakfast. Served as a side with their lunch. Ground into the flour that their bread is made of.
Why this mushroom mania? First, we have to back up to the state of children living in rural villages in Togo. Malnutrition is a huge problem for children in poverty in Togo. The national rate of severe malnutrition among children under 5 is at 14.3 percent. But even those who haven’t been classified as malnourished are not eating a balanced diet. An estimated 97 percent of Togolese children don’t have access to a balanced diet.
That was one of the problems that the staff at Shalom Child Development Center noticed as soon as they began registering children. Dozens of children were severely malnourished, and without interventions their growth and even mental development would be stunted.
“We were spending a huge amount of funds on malnourished children, trying to cover the costs of extra groceries and vitamins,” says Irenee Sepledjil, the project director at Shalom. “The situation was similar in most of the centers in Togo. So we decided to start mushroom production business.”
Why mushrooms? Research had confirmed that mushrooms were high in fiber, protein and amino acids. They are also a good source of vitamins A, B2, B12, C, D and E. Mushrooms also help boost children’s immune systems.
So the innovative staff at the center set up a mushroom farm that produces 4,000 kilograms of mushrooms each month. A portion of the crop was served to the registered children during lunch at the center, and children who were identified as malnourished were able to take home an extra packet of mushrooms. Dried mushrooms were mixed with rice or corn to make enriched flour used to make the children’s breakfast porridge.
The idea caught on so much that they even began selling this enriched flour in local markets, using the income to pour back into serving the children.
Does it work, though?