Researching indigenous mushrooms as a means to improve the livelihoods of communities

Ms Nailoke Pauline Kadhila-Muandingi in the lab

The African Union (AU) has declared 2015 as the Year of Women. As part of this appreciation of women in society, the NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) is profiling women who have used Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), to make a difference in the society. The series is meant to encourage gender equity and increased participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Congratulations! Strong Women doing Strong Science lead to Strong Nations.

Mrs. Pauline Kadhila-Muandingi started her career with the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) in 2009 as the assistant node coordinator for mushroom node. Now promoted to coordinator, the SANBio Mushroom Node is hosted by the University of Namibia. She started her career as an agronomist but later developed great interest in mycology, microbiology and molecular biology. Her main interest is in mycology, mostly on Basidiomycetes.

Pauline holds an MSc in Applied Biology from the University of Namibia and a Bachelor of Science (BSc) from Zhejiang University People’s Republic of China. She is currently working towards a PhD degree, focusing on Namibian indigenous mushrooms – especially those of medicinal importance. The main project she is busy with is the possibility to domesticate the mushrooms of Termitomyces species (which are a delicacy in Namibia, if not in the whole Southern African Region).

“I have been involved in researching indigenous Ganoderma mushrooms which I and my colleagues managed to domesticate and studying their mycochemical profile and their nutritional contents compared to other Ganoderma species found elsewhere in the world. We then managed to develop Ganoderma Dietary Supplements in the form of capsules that can be used to boost the immune system to ward off many ailments. We also harvest and buy local edible mushrooms and process them into soups that can be kept longer to be used during off-season, since these mushrooms are only available during the rainy season”.

Through cultivation and post-harvest trainings offered by the Mushroom node the community members are able to grow mushrooms for their own consumption and as a cash crop. After training communities are able to create jobs by employing other community members to grow mushrooms or as sales people for mushroom products, e.g. soups and teas.

Pauline believes that female scientists should always believe in themselves and have confidence in what they do while being open to criticism because that is what will make them better scientists. “Ask when necessary, even if it is asking the junior person next to you. Lastly, pursue your dream to the fullest. It is better to love and enjoy what you do as a scientist than what you make out of it. Everything that a woman does, she does it with love and passion. Because of that, most women are successful scientists and have contributed greatly to science. Most recent discoveries are a result of research by women, as reported in media. However, we must strive for more woman representation in science,” says Pauline.

She states that while no particular person inspired her to become a scientist, she has always dreamed of wearing the white lab coat: “Now that I am having it on daily, I am gratified and I will not waver.” When she is not in the laboratory or green house she spends time cooking for her family or friends, reading or debating something with her sons.

Pauline enjoys having the chance of working independently while also being backed up by great colleagues who are almost alarmingly eager and talented in the same field. She also cherishes the interactions with different people she meets on many occasions. “The networking with organizations and individuals that show interest in the research I do and the fact that I possess the knowledge and skills of what I do make me enjoy my role. I am actually a very shy person, but most people do not realize so.”

When asked to choose which indigenous plant or animal she would be, she replied: “None! I must be an indigenous mushroom that is known as Ganoderma. As a Ganoderma, I would contribute momentously to people’s livelihood in terms of health, income and job creation. This is due to the fact that Ganoderma are medicinal mushrooms easily cultivated and taken as tonic, tea or spice, can be capsuled and marketed to generate income. I could be cultivated by anyone regardless of their level of education. Ganoderma is regarded today as the “herb of spiritual potency” and it is widely believed that it symbolize success, well-being, divine power, and longevity!” Pauline replies laughing.