Faith Nyamu is a researcher at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe). She spoke to Mercy Wahito on the many insects one can keep for use as human food and animal feeds
Many farmers are eager to get into insect-rearing, where does one start?
One should get knowledge and training on the insects they would like to keep. Icipe offers training in insect-rearing and offers starter pack (live insects) to trainees. We also do a follow-up to ensure farmers improve on their production.
Insect farming requires little space as one keeps them in small buckets and basins. Most of the insects feed on organic matter that include kitchen waste, which is then converted to good compost and later used for farming.
In contrast to animals and crops, which take longer to mature, insects take a maximum of two months to be ready for harvest.
Very little water is needed to breed insects, therefore, communities in arid areas can comfortably keep them.
Rearing some of the insects, Locusts, in particular, are collected from the surrounding. Doesn't this threaten the local biodiversity?
This in fact conserves biodiversity since only a few insects are collected and from the number, one does mass production.
This is contrary to harvesting the insects in huge numbers for food or feeding them directly from the environment, thus depleting the numbers.
What insects can farmers keep?
No all insects can be kept for food or for use as animal feeds. But we have researched on and domesticated the following:
a) Black soldier fly (Hermetia illlucens): The fifth instar larvae are used for feed formulation after drying or fed directly to poultry, pigs and fish.
b) Crickets (Scapsipedus Icipe gryllus bimacullutus).
c) Long-horned grasshoppers (Rusporia differences).
4. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregarious).
5. Palm weevils.
6. African fruit beetle.
Why are most farmers keen on keeping black soldier flies as opposed to other insects?
Black soldier fly larvae contain high levels of crude protein that can be used to substitute protein in pig, chicken, dairy and fish feeds, thus reducing the use of fish meal and the soya bean used in conventional feeds.
The insects are reared on organic waste streams that most of the time are a bother to dispose, thus cleaning the environment and the by-product is manure.
Insects can serve as alternative protein for humans. What is their nutritional value compared to the rest of meats consumed?
They contain very high levels of protein and other nutrients that help boost immune systems in human beings compared to the rest of the meats.
To reduce the terrifying mentality of eating insects wholly, they can be ground into powder and added to food, stew, porridge or incorporated in cakes, cookies and chocolates.
Cricket food products are the most popular. They include cricket flour (pure dried crickets), cricket juice and cricket powder.
In Kenya, insects are a delicacy for communities in western Kenya. Insects that have traditionally been consumed as food are grasshoppers, locusts, lake flies and crickets.
Insect-farming can be capital-intensive, so what is your advice to a small-scale farmer seeking to venture into the practice?
Start small and expand when fully conversant with rearing and production. For the ones who wish to start large, we encourage working together with other farmers to increase supply.