Growing edible mushrooms next to trees can provide a valuable food source for millions of people while capturing carbon, a new study has found.
For the past two years, Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor at the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Science, has been collecting and analyzing data from studies into the emerging field of mycoforestry.
His analysis found that growing edible ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) in forests can sequester up to 12.8 tons of carbon per hectare annually.
His research also found that fungi growing “in symbiosis with” — nearby — trees could provide a nutritious food source for nearly 19 million people a year.
“Fungi, which grow in symbiosis with living trees, are used to create a food crop from new tree plantings, and we found that producing fungi with this system can result in very significant greenhouse gas sequestration,” he said.
“This is an enormous advantage, which means that we can actively contribute to climate protection through the production of this food.
“If we compared this to other major food groups, this is the only one that would result in such benefits – all other major food categories result in an emission of greenhouse gases during production.”
Currently there is a significant global problem of land use conflict between forestry and food production.
Scientists have said the net loss of forest cover remains high at about 4.7 million hectares per year, according to data for 2010-2020.
Demand for agricultural land is believed to be the biggest driver of global deforestation, and it is projected to accelerate.
Professor Thomas said that mushrooms growing on trees not only reduce the need for deforestation to make room for crops, but also create incentives for tree planting.
He said if the mushroom tree cultivation system were combined with current forestry activities, the food production could be enormous.
He claimed that if the method had been used in forestry over the past 10 years, enough food could have been produced to feed 18.9 million people annually.
“For China alone, over the past 10 years, its forestry could have built a food production system that provides enough calories to feed 4.6 million people annually,” he added.
With his findings, he has urged scientists to join his research and seek support from relevant authorities to act on his findings.
He added: “This food production system is highly scalable, realistic and a potentially powerful path to greenhouse gas sequestration.
“It would contribute to global biodiversity and protection, spur rural socio-economic development and incentivize higher tree planting rates with all the attendant benefits.”
The study, on which Professor Thomas worked alongside the Dean of Science, Professor Alistair Jump, was published in PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), a journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS ).