GROWING edible mushrooms alongside trees can produce a valuable food source for millions of people while capturing carbon, scientists have found.

A study by Paul Thomas, an honorary professor at the University of Stirling, appeared in a National Academy of Sciences journal after two years of collating and analysing data from published sources.

The approach enables less deforestation to make way for crops as plantations can be placed in woodlands and trees can remain in the forests.

The study comes amidst a significant global issue of land-use conflict between forestry and food production, having a net loss of forest area of more than 4.5 million hectares per year.

This makes the demand for agricultural land the biggest driver of global deforestation.

Analysis by Thomas found that cultivation of fungi in forests could sequester up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare while at the same time producing nutritious food for almost 19 million people a year.

Thomas said: “We looked at the emerging field of mycoforestry, where fungi that grow in symbiosis with living trees are used to create a food crop from new tree plantings.

“We found that production of fungi using this system can lead to a very significant sequestration of greenhouse gas.

“This is a huge benefit which means that by producing this food we can actively help mitigate climate change.

“When we compared this to other major food groups, this is the only one that would result in such benefits – all other major food categories lead to a greenhouse gas emission during production.

“We calculate that if this system was combined with current forest activities, the food production levels could be huge. If it had been used in forestry that has taken place during the last ten years, we could have produced enough food to feed 18.9 million people annually.”