STIRLING, Scotland — Mushrooms may be the fungal hero the world needs right now. In an effort to save the planet from climate change and end world hunger, scientists are proposing growing mushrooms for every newly planted tree. Not only do mushrooms serve as a nutritious source for millions of people with food insecurity, but it also helps with capturing carbon.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose levels have risen in recent decades from human activities. When the gas is released from actions like the burning of fossil fuels, it travels up into the atmosphere where it traps in extra heat. This makes it harder for the Earth to cool itself down. The greenhouse effect it causes is one of the main drivers behind increasing global temperatures.
Planting mushrooms might seem like an unorthodox solution, but it takes away the need to clear extra land to grow crops and provides an incentive to planting trees. There has been less fertile land to grow plants, driving heated arguments on whether the remaining land should go towards revitalizing forests or food production. Data from 2010 to 2020 reported a loss of 4.7 million hectares of forest area per year.
“We looked at the emerging field of mycoforestry, where fungi that grow in symbiosis with living trees are used to create a food crop from new tree plantings, and we found that production of fungi using this system can lead to a very significant sequestration of greenhouse gas,” says Paul Thomas, an honorary professor at the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, in a university release.
How much would growing mushrooms help?
According to Thomas, growing edible mushrooms in forests has the potential to capture up to 12.8 tons of carbon per hectare annually. They would simultaneously feed nearly 19 million people a year.
“This is a huge benefit which means that by producing this food we can actively help mitigate climate change. When we compared this to other major food groups, this is the only one that would result in such benefits – all other major food categories lead to a greenhouse gas emission during production,” the researcher adds.
If the mushroom-growing system was in place 10 years ago, the study authors estimate it could have fed 18.9 million people annually. Stud authors say growing mushroom would be better late than never. China, which holds the second largest population in the world, could feed up to 4.6 million people annually if they implemented this practice now.
The findings appear in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.