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Improving conditions for mushroom pickers in China

Recognising the environmental impact of wild mushroom picking, Unilever, which uses the ingredient extensively, is working with 200 smallholder farmers in China to promote positive change. Pickers, mostly women, are being trained to protect the environment, as well as exercise higher levels of quality control, when they harvest mushrooms.

Unilever is one of the world’s largest buyers of wild mushrooms – they are a signature ingredient in many of our savoury dishes. But collecting wild mushrooms is historically linked to deforestation. So we have launched efforts to train pickers to manage the land without degrading it and to use sustainable practices.

Wild mushroom picking has suffered from a number of problems. Changes in climate have led to failed harvests. Quality control has been inadequate, and hygiene along the supply chain substandard. Living conditions and pay for the pickers, most of them women, have been poor.

Unilever has entered into partnerships with its supplier H&Y and the government of the mountainous province of Yunnan in the south-west of China. We are working with dryers, who process the crops, in 15 villages to train smallholder pickers across the mountains of Yunnan.

So far the results are good. Better quality mushrooms are being delivered, as control is exercised at the point of collection. The pickers have been trained to protect the environment and pick sustainably, so that the next cycle of mushrooms is assured. The pickers bring their collections into the village and are paid a fair price for the mushrooms instead of being at the mercy of local middlemen.

The changes are having an impact at village level, with individual women attesting to an improved income and a better standard of living. The initiative has started modestly with 15 villages, but the goal is to expand the reach of the project to over 500.

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