Even as the cost of farming goes up, thanks largely to high feed costs, Kenyans cannot access cheaper alternatives because of restrictive laws.
The discovery of insect-based feeds by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) was celebrated as a game changer in poultry farming and aquaculture.
In 2017, Icipe struck an agreement with Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and the ministries of agriculture and livestock in Kenya and Uganda to allow farmers buy or sell the insect-based feeds.
Unfortunately, there has been no movement yet, leaving farmers frustrated.
Icipe also developed a manual on mass-producing crickets and black soldier flies as a viable alternative to the costly soybeans and cereal feeds. Some farmers quickly took up the venture.
The Icipe and IDRC research identified insect species and tested their rearing and harvesting techniques suitable for small-scale farming. Pilot programmes began in the two countries.
According to the two organisations, birds fed on insects produce more nutritious eggs and meat. Fish given insects attain more kilos than those fed ordinarily.
However, laws in Kenya and Uganda do not approve the stocking or selling the insects. They are instead viewed as bugs and contaminants.
Kenya National Guidelines on Nutrition and HIV/Aids recognise entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) as a part of traditional food culture.
ESTABLISH VALUE CHAINS
It acknowledges insects like termites as a source of animal proteins other than milk products, beef, poultry, chicken, eggs, fillet or dried fish.
Indigenous foods are allowed for consumption but not for trade unless registered under Kebs. Now farmers have called on the government to do away with the restrictive laws.
“Our farmers produce 30 kilogrammes daily, which we sell locally at Sh700 per kilo. If we get the necessary permit, we can increase our production and stock the crickets in supermarkets. We can even export them,” George Oweke, the group leader of 500 farmers who rear crickets in Dunga, Kisumu County, says. He adds that lack of a certificate has also affected pricing.
“Kebs should speed up the process of issuing licences as we see huge potential in insect farming. It may be a new business but people are already coming from all over the country to buy the insects. They even want to know how they are produced. It is part of ecotourism,” Oweke added.
Charles Odira, a farmer from Nyakach, Kisumu County, said even as such groups are seeking clarification from the government, scientists should move around the country to help farmers establish value chains for crickets and black soldier flies “to ensure we meet the required standards”.
Dr Jemimah Njuki, a senior programme specialist at IDRC, says though the scheme was started to ensure more farmers access the cheap but nutritious feeds, commercialisation has not been achieved.
According to Dr Chrysantus Mbi Tanga, a scientist at Icipe, there have been talks with the two countries to relax these laws.
He says regulations and standards for the use of insects in animal feeds are being developed jointly with the two governments.