With dozens of registered children suffering from severe malnutrition, the staff at one Compassion child development centre in Lomé, Togo faced an enormous problem. Careful research led them to a solution that would help feed the children and even generate some income. The surprising answer? Mushrooms.

“When I wasn’t working here, my life was a big mess. My husband was sometimes employed but it was so difficult for us to [make ends meet]. It happened that we ate once some days and we didn’t even know how we got to manage our lives. We lived just by grace,” says Philomène Nouwokpo, a local of Lomé, Togo. She was far from alone.

Irenee Sepledii and the staff of the new Shalom Child Development Centre in her neighbourhood recognised that meeting the nutritional needs of the registered children had to be their number one priority. Many families were in the same position as Philomène’s, eating once a day and sometimes less.

“We realised we were spending a [significant] amount of child support money on malnourished children because the Highly Vulnerable Fund could not cover all of them,” explains Irenee, the centre director. “The situation was similar in most of the [centres] in Togo.”

As they prayed diligently for God’s leading, they knew they needed a solution that would be cost effective, help rebuild the children’s health, and, most importantly, be sustainable.

And then, God led them to an unexpected solution: mushrooms.

Mushrooms can beat malnutrition 2

“[We realised mushrooms are] a rich plant that can respond to the [needs we faced],” says Irenee. With the help of Critical Needs funding, the centre started a mushroom farm.

“When we started the [farm], we were really focused on our [children], especially those who were not fed well at home. But along the way, people [from outside] started demanding the product.”

As production increased, the staff were able to feed the children at lunch, give packets to the most vulnerable to take home with them, and use the remainder to grind with rice or corn to produce a nutritionally-enhanced flour for porridge.

“Our vision seems big,” Thomas Egli, the pastor of the Shalom Church, acknowledges with a smile, as he outlines a suite of mushroom products growing on the horizon: mushroom teas, mushroom soup, mushroom juice, mushroom flour.

But the farm’s output has matched the size of the vision. Now growing upwards of 4000kg each month, and employing seven locals including Philomène, it sells to the local markets, and has even fielded requests from across the border in Benin.

From 200 registered children, more than 10 per cent of whom were severely malnourished, to 340 children all at a healthy weight, the project has already made an incredible impact on the children’s health—and the wider community.

For Philomène, God’s answer to prayer is seen most easily in her own home.

“Thanks to this intervention, my entire family has food on time and we are all healthier. Our life has really improved!”

Words by Bernard Gbagba and Richard Miller