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Maria Holgado Rojas is a soft-spoken ethnomycologist with a bold mission: to fight malnutrition in the Cusco area by cultivating mushrooms in the lab.
Mushrooms are no strangers in Peruvian traditional culture — they were used in Inca and pre-Inca times. So a few years ago Rojas started visiting food festivals to talk to the people who harvest and sell mushrooms. After finding out which ones they eat, which they don’t and which they can identify, it was time to use science to tap into that traditional knowledge.
Rojas began growing several mushroom species in her low-tech lab with the help of a team of students and home-made equipment. She then convinced a local mayor to try out mushroom farming in a village. The project aimed to transfer this technology to poor communities in the region.
This audio slideshow charts the journey of that research from lab to village — the community of Quishuarcancha, one of the poorest in the Cusco region.
The project’s reach has grown since SciDev.Net visited Rojas and Quishuarcancha in 2013. The mushroom cultivation technology is now being transferred to two other communities — Huayllay and Ccorca Ayllu — which have agreements with other institutions such as the NGO Bartolome de las Casas to help them reach market and take their mushrooms to food festivals.