Edible, delicious mushrooms are transforming lives in eastern Malaysia, empowering women to carve a new future for themselves and their families.
In Malaysia’s state of Terengganu, entrepreneurs Wan Naimah Wan Mat Ali and Noridah Ibrahim are building small businesses growing and selling edible mushrooms. Money generated by these unique ventures is helping put their children through university and convincing a growing number of consumers that fungi can make for delicious food.
The small businesses launched by Naimah and Noridah are backed by an economic empowerment program partly funded by ExxonMobil and the Sultan Mizan Royal Foundation; the initiative seeks to improve the quality of life of local women by providing them the skills and materials to launch their own successful businesses selling and growing mushrooms.
Prior to launching her small business, Naimah worked at a local bank. The possibility to move beyond a 9-to-5 job and build a business that will provide financial independence convinced her to make the entrepreneurial jump.
For Noridah, one hurdle she faced was overcoming the popular perception that mushrooms are poisonous. She said this misperception was her biggest challenge.
To change this view, she crafted a deep-fried mushroom recipe. Noridah’s children would then share fried delicacies with friends at school. The free samples helped build a small but dedicated market for her mushrooms.
However, Noridah’s real triumph happened at her daughter Aznia’s wedding, where she created a special turmeric mushroom curry. Encouraged by the success of this dish, she continued experimenting, tweaking the famous Malaysian rendang dish by using mushrooms instead of chicken or beef.
Since then, local catering companies have included her recipe in their menus – even ordering mushrooms from her to feed the new demand. She even got to serve her mushroom rendang at an event hosted by the local ruler, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin.
“This changed my life … for the first few months when I was harvesting, I was actually crying,” the single mother said.
“Funds from the mushrooms helped me to pay for school for my children and send three of them to university.”
Her daughter Aznia has followed in her entrepreneurial footsteps, helping her mother expand the business by adding beauty products made from honey harvested from native stingless bees to their offerings.
Across Terengganu, more than 250 women have now completed the program, with ExxonMobil contributing over $US250,000 to support the initiative.
Follow Naimah and Noridah’s journeys below as they build their business and showcase their success.
Delicious, edible mushrooms are transforming Naimah’s life and improving the lives of those around her, providing jobs and training for local women and girls.
Naimah uses all of her mushrooms, selling the best-looking ones and turning the others into chilli sauces and seasoning.
She plays music and talks to her mushrooms, believing it “infuses them with power” and improves the taste.
Noridah’s mushroom business has created jobs for local women; she’s also been able to finance her daughters’ university education.
Noridah began her entrepreneurial journey at the Building Entrepreneurial Capacity – Mushroom Cultivation Project, where she learned to grow and market mushrooms and was given the resources to start her business. These mushrooms were grown en masse in racks and could be harvested within a few months.
Noridah said the hardest part of the business was changing the belief these mushrooms were poisonous. Her deep-fried mushroom dish helped switch that perception.
Noridah’s unique mushroom rendang dish fueled demand for her mushrooms.
Noridah served her food to the local sultan, marking one of many high points for her business.