09/12/2015

Mushrooms: A Hidden Treasure

Gloves made from wool strings dyed with natural fungal pigments. This sort of crafts can become lucrative souvenirs for tourists. (Photo by Yulia Orlova)
The Polistovsky Nature Reserve hosts a rich variety of fungi suitable for dyes, but most is still unexplored. (Photo by Yulia Orlova)
The Master Class participants learn how to identify the mushrooms to pick for dyes. (Photo by Yulia Orlova)

FLEG-supported Master Classes in Russia teach how to benefit from non-timber forest resources

A basket of mushrooms and a pair of colorful gloves: at a first glance, the two do not have much in common. “People are often unaware of the incredible resources that can be found in woodlands. It is really amazing to see the beauty of the dyes extracted from fungi” said Andrey Zaytsev, FLEG Country Program Coordinator for IUCN Russia, “These Master Classes represent a unique opportunity to unearth the treasures hidden behind the biodiversity of forests”.

With the support of FLEG, the Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program, the first commercial Russian Master Class took place in Tsevlo, a village of Bezhanitsky District situated in the Polistovsky Nature Reserve. In September, over fifteen participants enjoyed a three-day hobby-tour where they learned how to produce paper and dyes from mushrooms.

This initiative builds upon the experience of the Master Classes in traditional crafts organized between 2014-15 to help residents of forest-dependent communities in North-Western Russia make profit from non-timber forest products.

During the Master Classes carried out this July, Natalia Milovidova, IUCN expert, was surprised to find out the lucrative opportunity that these activities represent. The Master Classes were originally conceived within FLEG with the aim to engage villagers in Pskov Region into ecotourism development as the alternative way of forest resources use for the sake of local economic growth. However, people from cities revealed to be willing to pay cash to join such trainings.

Yulia Orlova, one of the organizers of the previous initiatives, engaged the Estonian instructors Airi Gailit and Anna Baklan, expert mycologists specialized in the art of mushroom dyeing, to develop the first commercial Master Class which they called a hobby-tour. This was advertised by Ms. Orlova through social networks, magazines, and her personal blog.

About ten participants from Moscow and St. Petersburg enrolled by paying 10,000 RUB, which did not cover the travel costs and meals. In addition, the Polivstovsky Reserve staff invited six inhabitants of Tsevlo, who did not have to pay the participation fee, in order to continue pursuing the original goal of the initiative.

The hobby-tour unveiled to the trainees the wonders of the Polistovsky Nature Reserve and the hidden properties of fungi. The Master Class included an excursion to the forest to pick mushrooms, the extraction of natural pigments to color the yarn, and the production of paper from polypores.

“The technique of dye production is particularly complex, and it was exciting to see the participants’ smiles of satisfaction after all the efforts they made to obtain their colorful threads of wool” said Ms. Milovidova, “All of them received a set of information materials including a dyeing manual and detailed explanations of the fungi populations inhabiting the ecoregion where the reserve is situated”.

Quick Facts:

  • The Master Class crossed Russian borders: the two instructors who lead the hobby-tour, Airy Gailit and Anna Baklan, came from Estonia.
  • Over 15 participants took part in the three-day training organized by Yulia Orlova.
  • Master Classes could become a significant source of income for the inhabitants of forest-dependent villages.

The first commercial Master Class turned to be a remarkable success, in spite of the initial skepticism of some local residents. “This experience proves that the village dwellers can really cash in on this new form of sustainable business” said Ms. Orlova, “The external participants spent a considerable amount of money in meals provided by local households, traditional crafts and other sorts of souvenirs such as herbal teas. This is all very promising, and I am available to continue cooperating with the Nature Reserve staff to organize another series of trainings in Autumn 2016”.

This activity is a very effective tool to hand down the traditional customs and knowledge of Russian indigenous populations, values to be preserved as stated in the Saint Petersburg Declaration. Moreover, it encourages forest-dependent communities to participate actively in the management of forests “with the objective of providing for rural socio-economic and cultural development” (Saint Petersburg Declaration, action n. 6).

For more information on the Master Classes, read the impressions of Yulia Orlova on the blog “Artisan Fairs”, the main source of information for craftspeople in Russian.

For more information contact Andrey Zaytsev at andrey.zaytsev@enpi-fleg.org



            

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