Mushrooms are fungi that are mostly consumed by humans. Mushrooms are very nutritious and contain calcium, minerals and Vitamins. Some mushrooms contain specialized molecules that are used in medications.

Mushrooms are consumed around the world not for their nutritious value but for their flavour and taste. Even in Pakistan mushrooms are consumed in pizzas, soups, burgers etc.

Amazingly unlike the plants and animal species, mushrooms have not all been discovered and classified. Therefore a lot of research and work needs to be done in the study of mushroom species around the world.

Fortunately, many countries around the world have perfected the cultivation of mushrooms on a commercial scale. Now mushrooms are grown commercially in sterile conditions in dark rooms.

In Pakistan, the northern mountains have the perfect climate for mushroom growth, including cool wet weather, humidity and forests. Thousands of mushrooms grow in the hilly forest areas of Swat, Nathiagali etc, where some of the well-known species are collected by locals for consumption or sale in local markets.

On my recent trip to Swat, I met a young man from Malam Jabba Swat named Yousuf Ali, who was working on his Peshawar University MPhil research on mushroom discovery in Swat. He told me that in Swat, 80% of mushrooms were not discovered or classified.

In his research, he had already discovered a new mushroom in Pakistan, that he had named “Gymnopus Swaticus” after the Swat region. The mushroom has two new and special “cyclopeptide” molecules that are used in anti-cancer medications. This mushroom is only available in Canada and Pakistan at the moment and it is used in Canada for making anti-cancer medicines.

Yousuf Ali has already sent 50 new mushroom samples for genome study to China. His last batch of mushrooms was “destroyed mysteriously” in China but he said that the genome testing can be done in China the cheapest, while the other cheap location South Korea was costing double and Pakistan did not have this equipment available.

Establishing a mushroom industry in KP can create jobs and a strong export sector. The KP Government should therefore establish a mushroom research and promotion centre in Swat and Peshawar. Their job should be to establish mushroom genome testing service contracts with other nations to help reduce testing costs or install local testing equipment. While they would also help local farmers and entrepreneurs to set up mushroom cultivation farms in KP using the latest technology.

The centre will also promote the use and consumption of different mushrooms in Pakistan through media and special events in restaurants, while they would also establish G2B mushroom export to other countries to help many local small farmers export mushrooms collectively. This centre will help create a new business sector in KP which would increase financial activities, jobs and exports from the region.