People First

Donatha Tibuhwa in Tanzania

Updated: 5 June 2015

It is warm inside the laboratory despite the air-conditioning. Around the table stands a group of young students who are collecting DNA from yeast fungus (blastomycete). They are all students of microbiology and have Dr Donatha Tibuhwa as their supervisor. She moves through the groups, demonstrating and explaining.

"Hold the pipette at an angle so that it is easier to extract the liquid," she explains. The guys listen attentively. "I enjoy teaching," she says, "as I know that the knowledge does not just stay with me."

Donatha is a happy and open woman with a passion for mushrooms. She began her doctoral education in 2003 in the subject of African Chanterelles. Today, she identifies, characterises, and classifies mushrooms and her research has produced very clear results.

"Ten years ago there was not a single mushroom farmer in Tanzania. Now there are over 4,000. This means that many more families receive better and more nutritious food. In the end it is, of course, about people having a better life," explains Donatha.

Due to Donatha's research, another four types of wild mushroom have been adapted for cultivation, for example, oyster mushrooms, which are very nutritious. The total amount of oyster mushrooms currently produced is approximately 1,000 tons. In practice, you take the stems and seeds from the wild mushrooms and test how they develop in different environments in the laboratory.

"Tanzania has a very favourable climate for growing mushrooms and a large number of the wild mushrooms are very nutritious and can also be used for the production of various medicines. But the tradition has been lacking, the mushrooms have grown in the wild without anybody benefiting from them," she says.

An important part of the programme is the distribution of seeds and education in mushroom cultivation for the farmers across the country, in order to increase volume and sales.

"When we find the most favourable conditions, we distribute the seeds to the farmers, while educating them in how to get the best results. That way, they can boost their cultivation, partly for their own use, but many can also make money by selling on their yield," explains, Donatha. With the right conditions, you also get several harvests a year, which was not previously possible," she continues.

The Swedish-funded research programme in Tanzania has been underway since the 70s and has shown results in several areas; a HIV vaccine has been researched that is now being tested, renewable energy through recycled bio-waste which is burned to generate electricity as well as new methods for fish farming that resulted in a tenfold increase in productivity. These are some other examples in addition to Donatha's mushrooms.

Page owner: Communication Unit

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