In the shanty town of Epworth, on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, a young man, Life Chirinda, has found a unique way to make a living.
At just 25 years old, he has become an expert in cultivating mushrooms, which he sells to local markets.
With a deep understanding of the local climate and growing conditions, Chirinda is trying to turn a small-scale operation into a thriving business that provides a sustainable income for himself and his family.
However, Chirinda, like many other youths in the area, had struggled to make ends meet before he received training and resources from Plan International to start his own mushroom farm.
With the support he received, Chirinda was able to start growing mushrooms and selling them to local markets.
“I never imagined that I could be a farmer, but with the support of Plan International, I was able to start my own mushroom farm and earn a steady income,” Chirinda told this publication.
Chirinda, together with other 474 youths, benefitted from the Harare Urban Youth Empowerment (HUYE) project, implemented by Plan International in partnership with Standard Chartered with the aim to tackle inequality by promoting greater economic inclusion in their markets, such as Zimbabwe.
Chirinda, being the leader, heads a group of five young people, all with a common goal to escape from the social ills brought about by unemployment.
“I’m in the production of mushrooms in conjunction with Plan International, they gave us financial assistance after they called for proposals under the HUYE program.
“There are five of us under this project, four males and one female. This project started in September 2022,” Chirinda said.
Before the coming in of the project, Chirinda, who is a father of one, says he was unemployed, just like most young people in the area, which made his life tougher.
The business has not only provided him with a sustainable source of income but has also allowed him to help support his family.
“Before this, we didn’t have anything to support us economically. We were unemployed. Most youths lost their jobs during covid-19, and most were forced to take drugs, some engaged in theft and were arrested.
“But thanks to Plan International, we managed to avoid such things. We are here making a living,” he added.
Under this project, they were given $400 as capital for the project and within months, they had made significant profits as they made $700 in return after harvesting.
Chirinda’s success is just one example of the impact that mushroom farming can have on individuals and communities in Zimbabwe.
To ensure that all is in place, Chirinda roped in Yvonne Mazonde, who handles all the finances. She, like many other girls her age, was also facing high unemployment rates and became vulnerable to other social ills.
‘It was important for me to be a part of this project because we are now economically independent, before this, we were just ordinary people with nothing to do.
“Being able to work means I’m able to make my decisions and I can escape social ills,” she said.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, mushroom farming is a growing industry in the country, with an estimated 500 growers producing over 1000 tons of mushrooms annually.
Mushroom farming has become an important source of income for many farmers in Zimbabwe, as it requires little land and can be done in small spaces.
Additionally, mushrooms are a highly nutritious food that can be sold at a premium in local markets, making them an attractive crop for farmers looking to diversify their income streams.
Plan International has been working to support young people in Zimbabwe especially after most of them lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19.
“In Zimbabwe, the partnership was developed to support youth affected by COVID-19 especially young women to pursue decent work and viable entrepreneurial opportunities.
“It also ensures that young people are financially literate, are more resilient towards future shocks and are knowledgeable of how to start-up SMEs through revolving funds and savings groups,” said Oriah Musendo, Programme Coordinator of the project.
Musendo noted that the project also ensures that youth leaders from grassroots youth-led civil society have strengthened their capacity to identify and advocate for socio-economic opportunities for young people, especially women.
The project falls under Plan International’s pillar on Skills and Opportunities for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship (SOYEE).
The project is working with 475 young people between the age of 16 and 35. Of the 475, 80% are aged between 16-24. Additionally, at least 60% of project participants are female (285 women and 190 males). Of the 475, 29 young people have disabilities.
As for Chirinda, he plans to continue growing his business and expanding his reach. He hopes to one day export his mushrooms to international markets and inspire other young people in Zimbabwe to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
“I want to show other young people that there are opportunities in agriculture and that they can create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families,” he said. “Mushroom farming has changed my life, and I hope to inspire others to take the leap and start their own businesses.”
“I am grateful for the support I received from Plan International, and I look forward to growing my mushroom farm and improving my living conditions,” he said.
With the increasing demand for mushrooms both domestically and internationally, Zimbabwe has the potential to further develop its mushroom industry and create more opportunities for farmers like Chirinda to thrive.
In addition to providing a sustainable source of income, Chirinda’s business has also helped to uplift his community.
He has been able to hire other young people from the shanty town to help with the mushroom cultivation, providing them with their own source of income and empowering them to take control of their own financial futures.