Thank you. I’m very glad to be speak­ing here today, because food has always been some­thing very very close to my heart since a very young age. I became an orphan when I was sev­en years old, and that is the time that I learned how to work to put food on my plate. And I was out of school when I was nine years old because I could not afford to go to school in the morn­ing, come back home, work, so I can have maize meal to make our only meal of the day. I left school when I was nine, and when I was ten I was offered to mar­ry a guy who was thir­ty years my senior so I could have food on my plate.

And so from that back­ground, I under­stand food as some­thing that can change a lot of the major issues of our time, start­ing from ear­ly child­hood mar­riages, vio­lence against women espe­cial­ly in the part of the world where I come from. And when I refused to get mar­ried as a ten year-old, the per­son who was arrang­ing to mar­ry me off told me, You have turned down all the help that I offered to give you, and I want you to know that from now on you’re on your own.” And that was me at ten.

When I was eleven years old, I learned about mush­rooms, and that was a turn­ing point for me. I learned to farm mush­rooms as a young girl of eleven years old, and that was the first time I expe­ri­enced how to put food on my table in the eas­i­est way than I had been doing before. I was try­ing to farm. We had a piece of land that belonged to my grand­moth­er who was already over a hun­dred years old, and I was farm­ing. At the end of each day, all I had was just stalks with no corn on it, and I could not do any­thing with it.

When I learned to farm mush­rooms, I dis­cov­ered to grow mush­rooms you use agri­cul­tur­al waste that is avail­able to all the poor fam­i­lies in any any place we can say this is a strug­gling coun­try. As long as they prac­tice some form of agri­cul­ture, they will have this kind of waste material.

Growing up as an orphan in Sub-Saharan Africa, I was one of the thirty-four mil­lion orphans who at one point have to be mar­ried off so they can have food on their plate. Or they have to with­stand dif­fer­ent forms of abuse so they can eat food before they go to bed. In Zimbabwe alone, where we have a pop­u­la­tion of four­teen mil­lion peo­ple, 1.5 of that are orphans, and about 3.5 of them, they go to bed hungry.

Now, as a young girl of eleven find­ing out that by con­vert­ing agri­cul­tur­al waste, I can pur­chase food, I set out to under­stand­ing deeply about the art of cul­ti­vat­ing mush­rooms and sim­pli­fy­ing it so we can reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. And for me, my com­mit­ment was to reach young orphans who were going through the same sit­u­a­tion like I had to go through as a young girl.

Mushrooms are very high in pro­tein. They also have a bit of car­bo­hy­drate, and they have a lot essen­tial amino acids, as well. They are very healthy as a food, but they also work as a med­i­cine. And I went as a young girl of twelve to a uni­ver­si­ty where I spent time learn­ing more about mush­rooms, learn­ing how I can grow mush­rooms from dif­fer­ent kinds of waste mate­r­i­al. And this is from corn stalks, from chick­en manure, from cow dung, but also coffee. 

That is me when I was start­ing to grow mush­rooms as a young girl, and with­out any under­stand­ing of sci­ence. And of course I decid­ed I would sim­pli­fy and trav­el to dif­fer­ent places in the world and adjust the grow­ing spaces. Mushrooms are grow­ing in very small space, but most of the time it’s made to be a ster­ile envi­ron­ment where you have to do a lot of work ster­il­iz­ing every­thing. And I fig­ured out a mod­el of how to sim­pli­fy that so vil­lage women in Zimbabwe can do it.

On one square meter of land, you can pro­duce seventy-five kilo­grams of mush­rooms in three months. And this is a lot of food, espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er that one kilo­gram of these mush­rooms can be sold for sev­en American dol­lars in a coun­try where a lot of the time, peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing with HIV and AIDS, they don’t even get a dol­lar to get a sup­ply of their med­ica­tion for a month. Young girls who have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to go to school, they have to stop going to school when they’re hav­ing their peri­od because they can’t buy san­i­tary pads for when they have their peri­od. And in some cas­es, they were actu­al­ly using cow dung because they don’t have any­thing else to use.

So for me, it was impor­tant to sim­pli­fy that. So we are grow­ing mush­rooms in dif­fer­ent struc­tures that can be built using what the peo­ple have avail­able. And for me, this defines the future of food. Empowering peo­ple, capac­i­tat­ing peo­ple, to use what they have, where they are, to pro­duce food. Learning from their cul­tur­al prac­tices. I was har­vest­ing mush­rooms in the for­est with my grand­moth­er as a young girl of sev­en. So cul­ti­vat­ing mush­rooms is real­ly build­ing on a tra­di­tion that has been there for a long time and only now lost in the name of civ­i­liza­tion.”

So we are work­ing now with groups of women in dif­fer­ent places, chil­dren and men togeth­er, teach­ing them how to use the waste mate­ri­als that they have to grow mush­rooms. And one would won­der… I mean, yes you grow seventy-five kilo­grams of mush­rooms in a square meter. What amount of waste, and how does that work? So, if you have one hun­dred kilo­grams of waste, you get fifty kilo­grams of mush­rooms. And then you have a waste mate­r­i­al that you can use as a fer­til­iz­er for grow­ing oth­er food.

So this is the work that we’re doing with local com­mu­ni­ties. Awakening indi­vid­ual per­sons with the lit­tle resources that they have, that they can con­tribute towards the future of food pro­duc­tion. And what I believe in per­son­al­ly is that food pro­duc­tion has to belong in the hands of every­one. Everyone has to own the means of pro­duc­ing their own food. And every­thing, every sys­tem that we devel­op going for­ward in food pro­duc­tion has to be adjust­ed so they can feed in the local prac­tices of every place in question.

And we need to build col­lab­o­ra­tions that help us to under­stand beyond just what we do in our lit­tle cir­cle. Because the work that I have done with mush­rooms start­ed as a young girl who want­ed to put food on her plate, to help­ing com­mu­ni­ties around me. But also to impact­ing the lives of oth­ers glob­al­ly, where we train entre­pre­neurs through con­vert­ing cof­fee, the waste from cof­fee that you have in your tea, into mush­rooms. Because, for all the cof­fee that’s pro­duced in the world, what what we drink is only 0.2% of what is pro­duced in total. And the rest, 99%, is thrown away. And we take that waste mate­r­i­al first on the farm, con­vert it into mush­rooms, and then we go into cafes. We have this hap­pen­ing here in the USA in San Francisco, where I train them to con­vert waste mate­r­i­al from cof­fee, from the cafes, from the Starbucks, into mush­rooms. And we have adjust­ed the method of pro­duc­tion so it can be imple­ment­ed in dif­fer­ent places. In the base­ment of this place now, we can turn it into a mush­room house. And for us, this is some­thing that is important.

So in short, I would say the future of food for me means col­lab­o­ra­tions that mat­ter. And this is a bit what’s between me and the peo­ple from MAD, where I grow food and I see what they do as chefs, and we actu­al­ly plan to have a big event in Zimbabwe where we will pro­duce food and we will work on pro­cess­ing that food togeth­er this year. And these col­lab­o­ra­tions are what is going to change, and every­one tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty, is going to rede­fine and reshape the future of food, we all act respon­si­bly to change it. 

Thank you.

Further Reference

MAD has been doing some ongo­ing work with Chido’s orga­ni­za­tion The Future of Hope.

Overview page for the MAD at the World Bank: The Future of Food” event.

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.