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.