Sign in / Join

In a city besieged in Syria, mushrooms replaced meat

Ⓒ AFP – Abdullah Hammam – | A Syrian member of the Adala Foundation, a local NGO, grows mushrooms in straw-filled plastic bags in the besieged city of Duma, east of Damascus, on 2 August 2017

In a wet room where plastic bags filled with straw hang from the ceiling, Abu Nabil carefully inspects the pearl-white mushrooms he grows to feed the inhabitants of the besieged Syrian city of Duma.

These “oyster mushrooms” have become a substitute for meat in this rebel stronghold east of Damascus, where many foods are no longer accessible to ordinary mortals because of the siege imposed by prorégime forces since 2013.

Throughout the Douma region, the eastern Ghouta, people can no longer rely on food produced locally or introduced in secret through tunnels or checkpoints.

To meet their nutritional needs, including protein and mineral salts, the Adala Foundation, a local NGO, has been looking for alternative crops.

“We have turned to mushrooms because they have important nutritional intakes, similar to meat, and can be grown inside houses or in cellars,” says Abu Nabil.

Ⓒ AFP – Abdullah Hammam – | Mushrooms cultivated by the Adala Foundation, a local NGO, in the besieged city of Duma, east of Damascus, on 2 August 2017

Conscientiously, this engineer checks the aggregates of mushrooms that form and checks the temperature of each bag to ensure that the conditions are optimal to produce this commodity.

“This culture was totally unknown here before the war,” said Adala director Mouayad Mohieddine. “It was by searching the internet for places that were in the same (war) situation that we found this solution.”

Adala understood that this type of crop did not require much space or major investments, making mushrooms an ideal product.

– Free distribution –

The process of cultivation begins by cutting thin slices of high-quality mushrooms that are inserted between small pieces of cardboard and then placed in sterile plastic boxes.

After 15 to 25 days, these mushroom fragments are mixed with sterilized barley grains to create “seeds”.

Ⓒ AFP – Abdullah Hammam – | Syrian members of the Adala Foundation, a local NGO, are mixing straw and plaster to grow mushrooms in the besieged city of Duma, east of Damascus, on 2 August 2017

At the same time, straw, boiled and dried, is spread on a table and mixed with a little plaster. The seeds are then scattered on the straw as it is introduced into the plastic bags.

These bags are then suspended for 25 to 45 days in an incubator room. The fungus then grows through small holes, each bag producing about 4 or 5 crops before being replaced.

Electric generators ensure that conditions are permanently maintained at 25 degrees Celsius and 80 percent humidity. Due to the shortage of fuel, they are fueled by a homemade fuel made from plastic.

Three months after the launch of the project, “we distribute nearly 1,300 kilograms of mushrooms per week to 600 people,” Abou Nabil said.

“This distribution is free for the poorest families, as well as for those suffering from malnutrition or spinal cord injuries,” he said.

– ‘A flower?’ –

These mushrooms are a boon for people like Oum Mohammed, a mother of four for whom meat, at $ 10 a kilo, is just a dream.

Ⓒ AFP – Abdullah Hammam – | A Syrian mushroom kitchen, grown locally by the Adala Foundation in the besieged city of Duma, east of Damascus, August 3, 2017

“It’s a blessing to be able to get it,” said the 50-year-old woman, dressed in black and wearing a headscarf, cooking in her very modest home. “It’s like you eat a meat or fish dish.”

Abu Adnane al-Sidaoui had never eaten mushrooms before obtaining them by Adala.

“I received a bowl three or four weeks ago,” said the 30-year-old man, a victim of fractures of a leg and in the back during an aerial bombardment.

“I did not know what it was, I learned to cook them by looking on the internet,” he sneaks, lying on a bed in his house. “On the first day, I fried them with onions and on the second day I cooked them in a yoghurt sauce.”

“We loved eating them in yogurt sauce,” he said with a smile.

No more than adults, the children of Duma were not familiar with mushrooms.

Ⓒ AFP – Abdullah Hammam – | A Syrian member of the Adala Foundation grows mushrooms in the besieged city of Duma, east of Damascus, on 2 August 2017

In a psychological support center, the food was distributed to children for the first time in Ramadan, the holy month of Muslim fasting, says one employee.

“We made a small workshop to show them what it is and how to cook them,” said the woman, who wished to be identified as Racha. “When I showed them, the children asked me:” What is a flower? ”

Terms of service