Cultivating edible mushrooms alongside trees could help to produce an essential food source that also captures carbon and reduces the impact of climate change, a new study from the University of Stirling has revealed.
While encouraging tree planting, the approach doesn’t require deforestation to make space for crops, researchers say.
The study, carried out by Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor at the university’s Faculty of Natural Sciences in partnership with the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Professor Alistair Jump, was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
To carry out the research, Professor Thomas delved into the field of mycoforestry, where specific types of edible mushrooms called mycorrhizal fungi (EMF) are planted in the roots of young trees to drive forest recovery. His analysis found growing EMF alongside trees not only helped to boost biodiversity and forest growth, but could also sequester up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year and had the potential to feed almost 19 million people annually.
“This is a huge benefit which means that by producing this food we can actively help mitigate climate change”, Professor Thomas said in a statement. “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.”
He continued: “We calculate that if this system was combined with current forest activities, the food production levels could be huge. If it had been used in forestry that has taken place during the last ten years, we could have produced enough food to feed 18.9 million people annually.
“For China alone, their forestry activity for the last ten years could have put in place a food production system capable of enough calorific output to feed 4.6 million people annually.”
While the results look promising, the technology is still very new and more research needs to be completed to achieve such benefits, he says. He has called on researchers to join the field and for relevant agencies to show their support.
“This food production system is highly scalable, realistic and a potentially powerful route to sequester greenhouse gas”, Professor Thomas concluded. “It would help with biodiversity and conservation globally, triggering rural socio-economic development and providing an incentive for increased tree planting rates with all the associated benefits that brings.”
Mushrooms are a trending ingredient at the moment. While their potential as a sustainable food source has emerged more recently, they are already popular in the functional ingredients sector, where they are being used in a variety of food formulations.