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Profitable Mushroom Business Aims to Save Miombo Woodlands

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Mushrooms sitting on dollar bills

Miombo Woodlands

Conservationists in Mozambique’s Gilé National Park are taking a unique approach to preserving the indigenous miombo woodlands by transforming the usual harvesting of wild mushrooms into a commercial venture.

Miombo forests cover large swaths of Southern and Central Africa. They provide habitat to hundreds of animals and thousands of plant species. The miombo trees have also supported the livelihoods of locals for thousands of years but are facing increased deforestation as a result.

Locals have been clearing miombo forests to get more arable land since they mainly depend on small-scale farming. Trees are cut for charcoal and building materials, and their roots are used for medicinal purposes. Despite the impact of farming, these mushroom projects may be a saving grace for the Miombo forest, because the business profits create the incentive to keep the trees around in Mozambique.

The Supa Mama Mushroom Project

This project — funded by the French Development Agency — works with over 900 women from 30 groups drawn from communities living in Gilé National Park.

The national park covers about 286,100 hectares (707,000 acres), much of which is covered with miombo woodlands. Locals are restricted from harvesting mushrooms and honey inside Gilé. However, they have a buffer zone around the park covering about 55,600 hectares (137,400 acres) where locals live, farm, and harvest mushrooms and honey. 

Usually, women pick these mushrooms while out doing other activities, such as collecting firewood. But for the past three years, under the guidance of conservationists, they’ve had the commercialization of native Mozambican mushrooms for the first time.

“It’s never been this way”, Project conservation manager Jean-Baptiste told Mongabay. “You can buy mushrooms in a can from Paris or China, but before now you could not buy local ones [in shops].” Jean-Baptiste Roelens acts as the country’s representative for the conservation NGO Nitidae, an organization that offers sustainable solutions to issues developing countries have.

Once harvested, the mushrooms are cleaned, dried, and transported to Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo, where they are packaged and sold with the brand name Supa Mama. 

The Relationship Between Miombo Trees and Mushrooms

Miombo is a colloquial Swahili word used to describe Zambezi Basin woodlands. These woodlands are host to some incredible-looking trees from the Brachystegia, Julbernardia, and Isoberlinia genus. These miombo trees, especially the Brachystegia genus, have an interesting relationship with mushrooms. 

The roots of the miombo trees host mycorrhizal fungi. In nutrient-scarce savannahs, these fungi help the trees acquire nutrients and water beyond the reach of their roots. In turn, the trees provide the fungi (mushrooms) with the much-needed carbohydrates. Providing the locals with a commercial incentive from the mushrooms is one way of conserving the miombo forests.

“Slowly, the community, especially the women, are learning that keeping the trees standing means having a bigger production of mushrooms,” Alessandro Fusari told Mongabay. “Since they’re starting to see commercial results, more and more avoid cutting trees.” Alessandro Fusari is the program manager of the FFS-IGF, a consultancy foundation that promotes the conservation, rehabilitation, and management of natural resources, and which co-manages Gilé National Park with the Mozambican government.

Conservation of Miombo Woodlands Sees an Upsurge in Gilé National Park

The resurgence of Gilé National Park shows that conservation efforts are not futile attempts. The park was established in 1932, but the wildlife was completely wiped out during Mozambique’s civil war between 1977 and 1992. 

Today, most of the wild animals have been reintroduced in the park. They include waterbucks, buffalo, zebras, wildebeests, sable, kudu, and around 50 elephants. The park is thriving again from tourism and research. 

But the miombo trees are not out of the woods yet. They are still at risk from small-scale farmers clearing plots to plant staple crops like maize and cassava or for charcoal fuel.

While ventures like the Supa Mama Project mushroom are a positive step in Gilé’s conservation efforts, according to Jean-Baptiste Roelens, one project alone cannot solve the issue. Not only are mushrooms seasonal, but many locals also sustain themselves through subsistence farming.

But while there is a focus on Miombo trees and the woodlands, many are confident that with more refined ideas and projects, these forests could have a bright future ahead of them.

Other Sustainable Projects in Gilé’s Buffer Zone

Besides the mushrooms project, locals harvest honey in the buffer zone, which can further push the incentives of conserving Miombo forests.

In addition to sustainable projects, The François Sommer Foundation–International Foundation for Wildlife Management (FFS-IGF) hopes to lift the restriction for non-timber harvesting ventures in specific areas within the national park.

The hope is that many different profitable and sustainable methods will come together to create incentives to protect the Miombo Woodlands, providing work and purpose for the locals in the area.

Wood landscape dollar sign

IC INSPIRATION

Most parts of rural East and South Africa depend on subsistence or small-scale farming. With their ever-shrinking land as their only livelihood means, the idea here is to create alternative methods of livelihood that strengthen Gile National Park.

However, rural residents still have to battle the costs of farming, transportation, food, and other difficulties to survive, and that’s why some locals encroach on wildlife reserves as they try to get by in life.

Luckily, most African governments, environmentalists, and global foundations are working to find a variety of sustainable solutions. It’s really about finding the sweet balance where the conservation of forests and wildlife adds to people’s livelihoods.

For instance, in August 2022, nine countries from the Zambezi Basin met in Maputo, Mozambique, to find ways to conserve miombo forests. These nations include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Congo, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. 

Now, in Mozambique, we see the fruits of these conservation efforts through projects like the mushroom project. Of course, the solution should be multifaceted, and some locals are still disillusioned by the government’s restriction on national parks.

This story is a step in the right direction and may restore Gilé to its former glory. We’ve seen flourishing forest and wildlife restoration projects in several parts of the world. For instance, the Ranthambore National Park is now thriving with wildlife from its humble beginnings.

While these Mozambican projects provide locals with new economic means and incentivize them to preserve the Miombo woodlands, their impact goes deeper:

they also provide a new avenue of research.

Some scientists are convinced that Mycorrhizal fungi may play a crucial role in saving our planet from global warming and even increasing the nutritional value of the food we eat by improving our soil. Africa is filled with these fungi, and in addition to the Mozambican mushroom project, other projects could be established in the area to learn more about the nature of mycorrhizae, making the preservation of the Miombo woodlands even more important.

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Flow Hive: The Greatest Beekeeping Invention in History

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Flow Hive

Flow Hive is the most revolutionary invention in beekeeping in history.

The innovation allows beekeepers to tap into honey directly from the hive without the mess and expensive processing equipment inherent in traditional beekeeping.

However, the invention goes beyond simply streamlining the harvesting process. The idea of Flow Hive started when founder Cedar Anderson was just a boy. He wanted to save the bees from being crushed when harvesting honey, and he and his father eventually created a very successful business from it.

How Does Flow Hive Work?

Before Flow Hive, the extraction process of honey involved breaking the hive to get to the honeycomb cells, manually removing the beeswax to get to the honey, and then using an extractor to collect the honey.

By comparison, Flow Hive uses Flow Frames, which the honey bees fill with wax and form honey on. When honey is formed, a Flow Key is inserted and rotated, which allows honey to flow right out of the Flow Frame and into a cup or jar, similar to turning on a faucet.

No breaking, no mess, no expensive processing equipment, and for those who would like to save the bees, no disturbed bees.

A Father and Son Bond is an Incredible Thing

Flow Hive’s are like a mini house that even the most spirited bees would be happy to call their home. Founders Stuart Anderson and his son Cedar come from three generations of beekeepers. This culture formed a father-son bond, creating the most innovative invention in beekeeping history.

How Did Flow Hive Start?

Flow Hive started in the mind of Cedar when he was just a child who felt bad that so many bees were being crushed while harvesting honey.

Imagine, a young boy raised to admire the social creatures that have sustained his family’s livelihood for three generations, and some of those very creatures are being harmed in the process.

A child’s innocence is a remarkable thing, but who would have known that it would become such a lucrative business?

“The first idea was simply that there must be a better way, and I’d been thinking about that from a very young age.”

That idea—brought about by a feeling in a young boy’s heart—eventually created the prototype which broke crowdfunding records.

Within 10 minutes on Indiegogo, they had surpassed their goal of raising $70,000, and within 15 minutes, they had already raised $250,000.

The campaign raised a total of $14,959,087, making it one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history.

golden honey in jars

IC INSPIRATION

Did you know that bees are an endangered species?

While learning about Honey Flow, I was particularly interested in why people become beekeepers in the first place.

A prominent theme went along these lines: “I noticed that I would only see one bee whenever I was outside enjoying the beautiful summer day, and I wanted to change that.”

Upon hearing this three times from individuals who don’t know one another, I began to really understand the disposition that almost seems to be an intrinsic part of the beekeeping culture.

To some, the absence of bees means not getting stung. But to others, it is something much deeper: it is the absence of purpose.

Bees have a purpose, and beekeepers create an environment where the bees can carry out their life’s purpose, so their purpose behind beekeeping is worthy of an inspiring click!

But did you know that not all bees are endangered?

The truth is that honeybees are abundant, but native bees are endangered.

Human industrial activities have affected all bees, but honeybees have been able to flourish because so many people have taken to beekeeping. So, while human activity has caused bees to become endangered, human activity has also caused them to flourish in abundance.

But despite this, honeybees compete with wild bees for resources, and the difference in the numbers of the two species can further push native bees toward extinction.

We are capable, yes! But with awareness, we can truly make the difference that we want.

There are 20,000 species of bees, and only one that makes honey, but while there has been so much attention given to honeybees, we are among amazing people who dedicate their lives to solving the real issues.

If you would like to gain more knowledge about endangered native bees and even come to know how we can save the bees, then inspiration is just a click away!

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Brittany’s Baskets of Hope: Showing That Children with Down Syndrome Have Enormous Potential

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Brittany's baskets of hope

Brittany’s Baskets of Hope

“We believe that all babies, no matter who they are or how they’re born, deserve to be celebrated and to know that they can achieve anything!”

These inspiring words appear on the website for “Brittany’s Baskets of Hope”. This small organization has an important message to share with families of babies who have Down syndrome. It’s a message that comes from the heart of founder and owner Brittany Schiavone.

Brittany, a native of Long Island, is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs with Down Syndrome. She understands what these families are going through intimately, and she created Brittany’s Baskets of Hope as a result.

What is Brittany’s Baskets of Hope?

Brittany’s Baskets of Hope is a non-profit organization that provides information and support to families that have children with Down syndrome.

Baskets are given as a gift to parents who are raising or expect to have a child with Down Syndrome.

These baskets include headbands, swaddles, hats, toys, and baby books. They even include a onesie that says “downright perfect”, and handmade blankets, donated by volunteers across the United States.

How Did it All Start?

The inspiration for Brittany’s Baskets of Hope began when Brittany saw a video about parents who needed support after having a Down syndrome child.

“I went home and told my parents that I wanted to help mothers of babies with Down syndrome; I wanted to give them hope.”

Her parents and older brother, Justin, were all on board. All are active on the board of directors for Brittany’s Basket of Hope.

The initial plan was to give a basket as a gift to local parents of children with Down Syndrome. In 2016, Brittany delivered her first basket to someone in her area. Then, the media drew attention to what Brittany was doing. Soon, something amazing started happening. Requests for baskets started pouring in from all over the United States.

Of course, it was not possible for Brittany to personally visit all these places. So, Brittany’s Baskets of Hope adopted a mail-out model. Today, Brittany has sent over 1900 baskets to all 50 states. They’ve also begun expanding outside of the U.S and into Puerto Rico.

Who is Brittany Schiavone?

When a new baby is born, people usually extend congratulations and good wishes to the mother. When Brittany Schiavone was born in 1989, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. All her mother heard from family and friends was “I’m sorry.” This was followed by a list of things Brittany would never be able to do.

Today, Brittany has completely defied the doctors’ predictions. She is a high school graduate with plans to attend college courses. She was a pioneer student in her school district’s classrooms. She’s participated in gymnastics, horseback riding, and dancing. She’s even swum in the Special Olympics.

Among the most amazing accomplishments is that Brittany run’s her own non-profit organization. She is hard at work making sure that no newborn baby is ever again greeted with the words “I’m sorry”.

How do Brittany’s Baskets of Hope Help Parents?

The arrival of a newborn baby is an exciting and stressful time for any family. But for the parents of a child with special needs, it’s a unique challenge.

Parents of these children are often unsure what to expect for their newborn child. They’re full of questions and, often, worries.

Brittany’s baskets of Hope brings these parents answers and reassurance to these families.

One of the key items in the baskets is a book that Brittany’s parents started out with when she was a baby. It’s called Babies with Down Syndrome: A New Parents’ Guide edited by Susan Skallerup. It’s a comprehensive guide to the things parents of these special children need to know. It provides these new parents with direction and guidance.

This is a much-needed burst of hope for these parents. Brittany’s Baskets of Hope tells them the truth about one of the most misunderstood conditions in medical history.

The Truth About Down Syndrome

Historically, people with Down syndrome have often been looked down upon and mistreated. They’ve experienced discrimination and neglect in the classroom and the workforce.

A human being has 46 chromosomes. These are strings of genetic material stored in the nucleus of every one of our cells. Down syndrome is a condition that causes a child to be born with a partial or complete copy of chromosome 21. This extra genetic material leads to the condition known as Down Syndrome.

Today, much of the negativity toward people with this condition has faded. Nevertheless, generations of misunderstanding have left many lingering misconceptions.

What is the Biggest Misconception About Children with Down Syndrome?

The biggest misconception about children with down syndrome is the assumption that they are not likely to achieve much in life.

The truth is, that most patients with Down syndrome have mild to moderate mental delays. However, they are still capable of learning to read, write, and take care of themselves. Many graduate high school and college. Some work as chefs, actors, teachers, and entrepreneurs.

Sometimes it takes them a little longer. In some cases, they need a little help from family or teachers. For example, as a child, Brittany struggled with learning how to talk. So, she learned sign language to help her communicate while she worked on her verbal skills.

However, like most kids with Down Syndrome, she got there when she was ready.

Unfortunately, focus is often on the weaknesses and limitations of the child, not on their potential.

These kids are often very good at learning through graphics and images and have a natural adeptness at learning new technology. They’re very social and are sensitive to the feelings of others.

Brittany's baskets of hope

Brittany’s Baskets of Hope on the Today Show

Brittany’s Baskets of Hope celebrates the Down syndrome community, and it hasn’t gone unrecognized.

One of the defining moments of the business came when Brittany Schiavone was a guest on ‘George to the Rescue’. The home renovation show provided a free renovation for her home office. Brittany had been working out of the dim, dusty, unfinished basement of her home. George and his team turned it into an attractive, professional workspace.

She was later invited on the Today Show to discuss the impact Brittany’s Baskets of Hope has had on people. One of the hosts asked her what she says to the families she works with. She said she tells them that babies, kids, and adults with Down Syndrome are “downright perfect”.

That wasn’t the first honour she ever received. In 2019, she was the first person with Down Syndrome to be named the L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth National Honoree. After a high-profile gala in New York, she was flown to Los Angeles to film a promotional video with Viola Davis where she was awarded $10,000.

What are Brittany’s Plans for the Future?

Brittany has a lot of plans for the upcoming years. She wants to move out on her own into an apartment, keep working, and get married one day. She’s also enrolled in college courses designed to meet her special needs.

Brittany’s Baskets of Hope may one day go beyond the United States and to families all over the world.

Brittany's baskets of hope to special needs children and their families

IC Inspiration

Kayleigh Williamson wept as she crossed the finish line at the end of the New York City marathon. The event took place on November 5, 2023. A marathon is a monumental undertaking for even the heartiest of athletes. For Kayleigh, it was an extra special achievement.

She was the first woman with Down Syndrome ever to jog across that landmark finish line.

Like so many babies with the condition, her future was not predicted to be very bright. Her doctors told her mother that, if she walked at all, it likely wouldn’t happen until she was at least five years old. Now, she’s not only walking, she’s running great distances.

Her path hasn’t been without challenges. She’s struggled with diabetes and Grave’s Disease along the way.

However, she refused to let any of this hold her back from any of her pursuits. Besides running marathons, she’s also active in sports like swimming, basketball, and the martial arts Krav Maga. She’s even done modelling work for Adidas, and is the author of a children’s book called It’s Cool to Be Me.

Kayleigh is a marvel and an inspiration, not just to the Down Syndrome community, but to all of us. She proves that, with determination, anything is possible. She is the life and spirit of Brittany’s Baskets of Hope. Nothing should hold anybody back, no matter what life throws their way.

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14-Year-Old Creates Skin Cancer Soap With Enormous Potential

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soap bars on green leaves

Heman Bekele

Skin cancer patients around the world will soon be able to treat the disease easily with an inexpensive bar of soap created by 14-year-old Heman Bekele from Virginia. The Ethiopian-born ninth grader was inspired to create a skin cancer soap so that he could provide affordable and accessible treatment to millions of people, especially those in underdeveloped countries.

He aims to create a non-profit business by 2028, and his invention has been so successful, that he won the $25,000 grand prize in the America’s Top Young Scientist contest sponsored by 3M and Discovery Education.

To understand how Heman’s soap works, it’s necessary to first understand his first basic material: The human skin.

What is Human Skin Made of?

The human skin is a complex and amazing organ. It’s made of multiple layers of cells.

  • The Epidermis is the uppermost layer of cells. It’s the part that is visible all over the outside of the body and which most people most commonly think of as skin.
  • The Squamous Cells form a lining beneath the surface. This layer contains a tough, protective protein called keratin.
  • Beneath this are the Basal Cells which perform the vital job of producing new skin cells.
  • The final layer is the Melanocyte Cells. It’s in this layer that our pigmentation, or skin coloring, is produced.

Each of these layers plays a vital role in the health of the body and skin. It’s when these roles are compromised that skin cancer develops.

How Do You Get Skin Cancer?

Many cases of skin cancer are caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation from either the sun or tanning beds. Tanning beds emit 12 times more UVA light than light from the sun, and that is why skin cancer often begins with the pursuit of the perfect tan.

Exposure to the sun’s UV rays or the artificial rays of tanning beds causes damage to the DNA in the epidermis. When this happens, the Melanocyte cells produce extra pigment as a layer of protection. This results in tanning or burning. Although many think of a tan as attractive, it’s actually a sign of skin damage.

If the melanocyte cells do not succeed in repairing the damage, the pigmentation cells start growing uncontrollably, eventually developing into cancerous cells and tumors.

Normally, these cancers are treated with surgeries and expensive radiation or chemotherapy. People in underdeveloped countries who can’t get these treatments are far more likely to go undiagnosed and become very sick.

“I was looking into the issue of skin cancer and the fact that, especially in third world countries, people living under the poverty line just can’t afford the treatment necessary for skin cancer led me to try to come up with a solution and that solution ended up being a Skin Cancer Treating Soap.”

HemaN bEKELe

Heman entered America’s Top Young Scientist competition. There, he was assigned a mentor who could coach him in the scientific knowledge he needed and put him in contact with experts who could offer further help. Using these resources, the young boy developed a simple soap treatment that costs just $0.50 a bar.

What is Skin Cancer Soap Made of?

The skin cancer soap contains three chemicals that activate bone marrow or white blood cells. White blood cells are primary players in the human body’s immune system. These cells are known as dendritic cells, and they are essential in the fight against cancer.

  • Salicylic acid: Breaks down layers of thick skin and helps the skin to shed dead cells from the top layer.
  • Glycolic acid: Removes the top layers of dead skin. Besides treating scarring, and hyperpigmentation, it also helps to reverse sun damage.
  • Tretinoin: Treats sun damage by speeding up the life cycle of skin cells. This way, they divide and die faster to be replaced by newer and healthier skin cells.

Joining other cancer-fighting endeavours, such as exploring the coral reefs for effective medicinal substances, and the establishment of legislation to ban cancer-causing chemicals, the soap is a particularly innovative new approach.

The soap is created to help the internal layers of the skin. A relaxing wash with soap every few couple of days is supposed to reduce and even reverse UV ray damage.

America’s Top Young Scientist 2023

For Heman Bekel, being named America’s Top Young Scientist is just the first step. 

The soap is not on the market yet but will soon be available by prescription.

“By 2028, I hope to turn SCTS [Skin Cancer Treatment Soap], which is right now just a passion project into more than that. I hope to turn it into a nonprofit organization where I can provide equitable and accessible skin cancer treatment to as many people as possible.”

hEMAN bEKELe

Meanwhile, he’s still striving toward his goal to be an electrical engineer who is instrumental in shaping the future of the world’s technology…

And he’s off to a tremendous start.

3M Young Scientist Heman Bekal
© 3M 2017. All rights reserved.

IC Inspiration

What do you do when you get diagnosed with skin cancer?

Well, if you’re Kathleen Barnard, first you put up a tremendous fight against the disease. Then you set up a foundation to help other patients with their battle.

Her first diagnosis of malignant melanoma came in 2003. Two years later, she was told her cancer was terminal and in 2006, she was given six months to live.

Fortunately, her sons were not willing to accept that. So, they went to work and found a doctor who was doing trials on a new immunotherapy drug.

The family had hopes that the new drug was the answer, but with only months to live, Kathleen decided to use the little time she had left to do everything she could to make sure no one ever had to go through this alone.

Nearly two decades later, Kathleen is still around and fighting her cancer. However, she’s also dedicating her strength and energy to her Save Your Skin Foundation, a Canadian organization that focuses on awareness and education about this terrible disease.

The foundation provides sufferers with emotional and financial support. It also promotes education and awareness of the various skin cancers as well as tools for prevention and access to the latest research and treatments.

Kathleen also pushed for legislation prohibiting the use of tanning beds for underage minors as younger kids are at a higher risk for skin cancer.

Of all of Kathleen’s accomplishments, perhaps her most extraordinary is her capacity to use her struggle to look beyond herself and reach out to others.

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