RISE for phoka - Resilient Initiatives with Sustainable Development is a registered CBO. Check out our work here:
https://risephoka.wixsite.com/rise-for-phoka https://m.facebook.com/100064383056402/ https://youtube.com/@riseforphoka
• About us
We are a youth-led, community based organisation in Livingstonia, a mountainous region in the north of Malawi. Since 2020 we have been working with underprivileged people in our community to give them a better chance in life, and cleaning and regreening this beautiful landscape.
Our vision: A healthy, educated and socio-economically balanced society in a flourishing natural environment.
The three main areas we focus on are: climate change and sustainable agriculture; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); youth and women empowerment. These are certainly complex and intimately related. We know we cannot accomplish everything at once, so brick-by-brick we are building a resilient future.
• The current project
We have partnered with Nirvana Mushrooms - an internationally recognised NGO based in the capital, Lilongwe - with the aim of building an indoor oyster mushroom laboratory to be run by local women: a Women Operated Mushroom Business (WOMB).
• Why women operated?
Women in Malawi are subject to abuse, harrasment and discrimination. They are not valued for their skills and are seen as inferior to men. These sexist and patriarchal opinions are exacerbated by high rates of female school drop-outs and teenage pregnancies, which create a dependency upon men for a home and for financial security. Moreover, child marriages are common, with girls 'sold' to an older husband from ages as low as 14. Women do not have the same opportunities as men and generally stay at home to cook and clean; without a proper education or older female role models, many women see no other option.
A society with strong, respected women, who have alternatives to child bearing and home keeping, is one with a vastly improved quality of life for the whole community. That's why here at RISE we seek to: empower women with business knowledge and financial independence, expose child marriages (which are illegal), and encourage girls to stay in school. The dropout rates in schools has a lot to do with a continued (yet slowly declining) taboo around menstruation, so more education about this and help with sanitary products is a priority in our work.
Again, we see the immense and entangled web of problems, so strive to refocus. Brick-by-brick... The ladies of the mushroom farm will become a source of inspiration to the younger girls, showing them that there is an alternative; that women can be strong and independent. The land on which the farm will be built happens to be right outside the local secondary school, so we will have a prime location to encourage girls to stay in education.
• Why mushrooms?
Mushrooms are a nutritious and affordable food that is highly regarded within Malawi. In Livingstonia, some native mushrooms grow but only in the wet season (November to March), and rainfall is becoming increasingly more sporadic thanks to a changing climate. This is destabalising the foraging capacity of the people, affecting their income and diet diversity.
• Progress so far
We already have the land on which to build the cultivation station and a rough plan of the building, designed with the help of Nirvana Mushrooms. We just need funds to buy the materials and pay for skilled labour.
The 14 women who will operate the business and work on the farm have already been identified, and have undergone a three-day training course with one of the experts from Nirvana Mushrooms, Mr John Njoka.
We are in discussion with retail outlets from where we can sell the oyster mushrooms, one of which being Mushroom Farm Ecolodge - a local tourism hot spot with an emphasis on supporting local business.
• Other things
Our foremost priority is the safety and wellbeing of the farm workers. We will therefore have a formal protocol for any complaints, ensuring that the women know exactly who they can turn to if they have any concerns. These will be dealt with in a serious and confidential manner.
In addition, we will have weekly meetings with the women where we can discuss any ideas, evaluate progress and make plans for the future. These will be attended by a member of RISE, but the women will be encouraged to have their own meetings throughout the week.
Our site will adhere to the principles of permaculture, in terms of creating closed loop systems for our inputs and outputs. As such, as a growing medium for the mushrooms we intend to use waste coffee grounds from the local coffee factory, and parts of the maize crop that are currently discarded as a waste product. Our building ethos will be based upon the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle motto, and all materials and labour will be sourced as locally as possible.
• Longer term plans
In the future, when the women have fully mastered the production of oyster mushrooms, we plan to branch out into other mushrooms like lion's mane, reishi and shiitake. Furthermore, we have plans to add value to our products by drying and pounding them to make a powder. This could be combined to make various mushroom products, like coffee and seasoning. The drying process will also mean we can sell further afield and store for longer, reducing wastage.
There will be scope on the same site to create other small businesses too, for other women in the area. We will encourage entrepreneurialship and help wherever we can.
• Business model
The mushroom laboratory will be run as a cooperative, where each of the 14 women will be a stakeholder in the business. The profits made will be spilt equitably between RISE and WOMB, whilst some will go towards maintenance of the facility and reinvestment for expansion.
With the expertise of Nirvana Mushrooms, we predict a production rate of around 50kg of oyster mushrooms per week, sold at roughly $5 usd per kilo.
Initially we will sell them fresh to restaurants, the eco lodge and at the market, then also dry them for sale further afield.
• Where the money will go
+ Materials and skilled labour for the building
+ Expertise for crafting the inoculation stations
+ Materials for the cultivation including tools and spores