Tuesday, 21 April 2015

On route to Gishwati

A transition day...

We travel by jeep to the Gishwati Forest Reserve, which rises majestically above the Lake Kivu, half a kilometer from the town of Gisenyi.  In this virgin montane forest of 1500 hectares we make our way through difficult terrain looking for edible mushrooms that could be grown by our project partner Kigali farms.  

On route our 4X4 broke down.  But then, lifting our spirits, Jérôme cried out ‘Look Termitomyces robustus!'

On the side of the road a young girl was selling two nice bunches of this mushroom (see photo).  This edible mushroom, known through the whole of central Africa, is not included in our mission.  This is because there is virtually no chance that it could ever be commercially grown.  Why not?  

The reason is simple.  Termitomyces robustus grow in termite hills forming a symbiosis (partnership) with termites.  This partnership is a win-win situation.  By farming the mycelium (or fungal hyphae) inside the termite hill, the ants are helped to breakdown woody material by enzymes secreted by the fungus.  This means that if we want to cultivate this particular mushroom we will have to find a way of ‘domesticating’ the termites because they are essential for the development of the fungal mycelium.  This is perhaps future music but, for the meantime, we are a long way from achieving this goal.  It is for this reason that our mission is primarily focused on the search for edible saprotrophic mushrooms (like Pleurotes) that are far easier to cultivate commercially.  More on this later…

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