Lucy talks and laughs with Action Against Hunger staff.  Lucy started her own business: she learned how to grow mushrooms from Action Against Hunger’s team.

The magic of mushrooms

With support from Action Against Hunger, refugees in Uganda are learning new ways to improve their health and livelihoods.

By Action Against Hunger

Jul 9 2019

Five years ago, Lucy and her family fled the conflict in South Sudan. Leaving behind a civil war which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and sparked a famine in February, 2017, Lucy sought refuge with her family in the Kiryandongo settlement in northern Uganda.  

She is not alone. 1.2 million refugees currently live in Uganda, south of South Sudan. The Ugandan government gives all refugees a small plot of land, the right to work, and access to local schools and healthcare. Uganda’s refugee policy is the world’s most welcoming and most progressiveHowever refugees, many of whom have spent over a decade in Uganda, still face an uphill battle to find stable livelihoods. 

Initially, life at the settlement was not easy for Lucy, as she struggled to find adequate shelter and enough food for her elderly mother and six children. When they first arrived at the settlement, Lucy and her family lived in a basic mud hut that leaked badly during the rainy seasons. 

Lucy talks to Action Against Hunger USA's CEO, Dr. Charles Owubah.

HARVESTING MUSHROOMS, IMPROVED NUTRITION 

Six months ago, Lucy started her own business. She learned how to grow mushrooms with Action Against Hunger’s team based in Uganda. Mushrooms grow quickly – and so did her profits. Within a couple months, Lucy was earning more than £56 monthly for each harvest. 

“My life suddenly improved," says Lucy. "With what I earned from my first harvest, I built a decent hut for my mother. Then, I built a new house for my children and me. We are healthier. We eat mushrooms at least twice a week, and I can buy other foods to help improve our diet.”  

Alongside mushroom growing, Lucy maintains a flourishing garden where she grows chia seeds, fruits, peas, and other crops. These crops provide excellent, and tasty, food for her children who are dependent on good nutrition for the strong start to life that they need. The garden projects and the training are part of our ENABLER project, which provides tailored support to refugees and vulnerable Ugandans based on their level of need.  

As more than 85% of the refugees in Uganda are women and children, a primary goal of the programme is to increase self-sufficiency and improve livelihoods in female-headed households. 

“This project has proved to be very popular among the refugee community,” says Cuthbert Aongat, who coordinates our food security and livelihoods programs. “Mushroom growing is relatively easy, and in four weeks, refugees are able to get returns on their investment.” 

Fresh mushrooms grown by Lucy in Kiryandongo settlement in northern Uganda.

MUSHROOMS – A DELICIOUS DELICACY AND THE KEY TO A NEW LIFE 

In the last few months, Lucy has learned a lot: she has found that fresh mushrooms can sell at a higher price at the market, and that many of her customers love to eat them fried. Oyster mushrooms – the kind she grows – contain several vitamins and minerals and have strong nutritional benefits. Action Against Hunger built a solar dryer for Lucy and her neighbors to use to preserve the mushrooms. 

Lucy is impressive: her knowledge about the mushrooms she grows is remarkable. But what struck us most about her was her clear joy and pride in being able to make a better life for herself and her family. 

With her earnings, Lucy makes sure that her children, grandchild, and her five nieces and nephews can get an education – she is able to afford school fees for all of them. She is thinking ahead about her money, too: as a member of one of Action Against Hunger’s Villages Savings and Loans groups, she saves about $3 a week. 

“I hope to expand my business and sustain mushroom production on a larger scale,” says Lucy of her future plans. “I know I can manage this.” 

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Photos: Brian Kimanthi/Action Against Hunger Uganda