In a humid room in the besieged Syrian town of Douma, Abu Nabil inspects the pearly white mushrooms sprouting from white sacks hanging from a ceiling.
The oyster mushrooms poking out from holes in the bags are now a substitute for meat in the rebel stronghold, where a government blockade has created food shortages.
Abu Nabil walks between the sacks inspecting the clusters of mushrooms emerging from the plastic and checking the internal temperature to ensure conditions are optimal for the unusual crop.
Mushrooms are not a common crop in Syria, and rarely feature in local cuisine.
But in the Eastern Ghouta region, a key rebel bastion outside the capital Damascus, years of government siege have put traditional staples like meat far beyond the reach of ordinary people.
The Adala Foundation, a local NGO, began thinking about ways to help residents in need of nutritious alternatives.
“We turned to cultivating mushrooms because they’re a food that has high nutritional value, similar to meat, and can be grown inside houses and basements,” said Abu Nabil, an engineer who is project director.
“We were looking for a good source of proteins and mineral salts as an alternative to meat, which is very expensive,” added Adala’s director Muayad Mohieddin.
“We discovered the idea of mushrooms as a solution.”
Eastern Ghouta has been under siege since 2013, leaving locals to rely on food produced locally or smuggled in through tunnels or across checkpoints.
While the area was once an important agricultural region for Syria, mushrooms were not a local crop.
“This type of cultivation was totally unknown in Ghouta before the war,” said Mohieddin.
“We learned about it by searching on the internet for places in similar (wartime) situations to Eastern Ghouta,” he added.
The NGO discovered mushroom farming required neither large amounts of space, nor major financial investment, making it a good fit for their needs.