Lucy, a South Sudanese refugee in Uganda, learned how to grow mushrooms from Action Against Hunger. Here, she meets with the organization's CEO, Dr. Charles Owubah.

The Magic of Mushrooms

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

Five years ago, Lucy Lakello and her family fled the conflict in South Sudan, seeking refuge in Kiryandongo settlement in northern Uganda. She is one of 1.2 million refugees currently living in Uganda, a country that 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 progressive,” says Action Against Hunger’s CEO, Dr. Charles Owubah, who met Lucy during a trip to Uganda last month. “But refugees, many of whom spend over a decade in Uganda, still face an uphill battle to find stable livelihoods.”

Life at the settlement has never been easy – finding adequate shelter and enough food for her elderly mother and six children was especially challenging. When they first arrived at the settlement, Lucy and her family lived in a basic mud hut that leaked badly during the rainy seasons.

Six months ago, Lucy started her own business: she learned how to grow mushrooms from Action Against Hunger’s team. Mushrooms grow quickly – and so did her profits. Within a couple months, Lucy was earning more than $70 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.”

Patrick Otim, an Action Against Hunger agronomist talks with Lucy Acholi inside her mushroom growing house.

Photo: Brian Kimanthi
for Action Against Hunger,
Uganda

Alongside the mushrooms, with training from Action Against Hunger, Lucy maintains a flourishing garden where she grows chia seeds, fruits, peas, and other nutritious crops. The trainings 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 program 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.”

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,” says Owubah. “But what struck me 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.”

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.