At the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), researchers are hard at work, their aim to make edible insects acceptable as a mass market diet, rather than a meal confined to a few communities in Kenya and the region.
Ms Shira Mukiibi, the Business Development Manager, BioInnovate Africa Programme under Icipe, says several companies have been partnering with them to develop edible insect products for commercialisation as food and animal feed.
She says several firms have shown interest in patenting cricket-enriched products. “Examples are snacks and baby porridge.”
Icipe is currently running a cricket-rearing programme with farmers groups in Mbita and Bondo in western Kenya. It has also started an insect colony production for steady supply of quality crickets.
At Icipe’s cafeteria and catering unit, Chef Ashton Maungu is preparing the long horn grasshopper, green in colour, and the desert locust for the staff and other guests who frequent the busy international institution. “I’ve been preparing this meal especially for staff members from Uganda where insects are a delicacy,” he says.
WAITING TO BE SERVED
Dr Chrysantus Tanga, a research Scientist in charge of Icipe’s Insects for Food, Feeds and Other Uses Programme, is one of those waiting to be served with the meal. A Cameroonian, Dr Tanga grew up eating insects and does not understand why most Kenyans find it hard eating them too.
Two plates are brought for him; one with the green-coloured long horn grasshopper in a mushikaki of tomatoes and onion chops, and the other with crunchy desert locusts. He picks one stick of mushikaki at a time, before asking for hot tea.
As he munches, he invites a group at an adjacent table for a bite. They are hesitant except one who, gathering courage under persuasion, picks a piece of the desert locust, bites and chews meticulously.
A busy Dr Tanga has a tight meeting schedule and, therefore, combines his meal time with meetings. Among those waiting to talk to him is Ms Doreen Irungu, the chairperson of Ustawi Afrika, a women, youth and persons with disabilities empowerment group from Nanyuki, Laikipia County. After a hesitant bite of the crunchy desert locust, we ask what has brought her to Icipe.
“We would want to keep edible insects and those for animal feeds processing, so we have come to Icipe for advice,” she says.
Dr Tanga says that insect proteins are twice those of fish and three times those from beef. Their protein is more readily digestible and superior in quality. Besides, they are a rich source of iron, zinc, manganese and calcium, vitamins E and B12 and are considered an ideal diet for boosting the health of developing children below the age of five, the ageing, and in boosting blood levels for pregnant and lactating mothers.
They have steroids and flavonoids, important in bone formation, control and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, prostate cancer and inflammation. Worth noting is that insect oils are higher than in bigger animals and cholesterol-free. The longhorn grasshopper, for instance, has up to 60 per cent higher oil content than olive oilseed. Insects are also a source of antimicrobials. They have high fat levels with energy calories at 30 per cent more than corn’s.
They’re easy to manage since feeding them is cheaper. They need less space to keep, consume little food and water and are more efficient in converting food to usable mass.
They also survive in extreme weather conditions and are not prone to diseases, besides producing minimal greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
Food and nutrition scientist at the Food Science and Technology department of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) John Kinyuru, who pioneered a cricket farming project with 21 Kakuma refugee households in 2018, says, the project offers the refugees a sustainable livelihood.
They sell the insects to fellow refugees at Sh1,000 a kilo, with a potential of harvesting five kilos monthly and using the income for other needs, Dr Kinyuru says.
The crickets are reared in boxes designed to keep away predators such as lizards and rats. They feed on kitchen and green vegetable waste. Each household keeps a box within their house for safety and ease of management.
For commercial production, Dr Kinyuru says, a farmer can spend Sh5,000 on management. An average box that can produce 20kg every two months costs Sh3,000. Local food restaurants, hotels, food processors, agrovets that sell feed ingredients and animal feed processors are low hanging opportunities.
Icipe, Jkuat and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (Jooust) are running farmer skill-training programmes on breeding and farming insects.
Farmers from Kajiado, Laikipia, Siaya, Kisumu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Murang’a counties have been trained on gains of insect farming.
Prof Monica Ayieko, in charge of Consumer Science, Jooust School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, says the university is offering a programme on production and processing of edible insects.
“We have a university food processing project and are making biscuits using five per cent cricket powder, which are consumed within campus,” she adds.
As the university’s deputy director and principal investigator for Sustainable Use of Insects for Food and Feed (Insefoods), she says that so far, 122 farmers from Kenya, Ugandan and Zimbabwe have been trained on how to make model houses and pens.
Dr Philip Osano, director of Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Africa Centre, a research organisation focusing on innovative solutions to socio-economic and environmental issues says that SEI is supporting edible insects’ bio-economy research to promote diet diversification and food and nutritional security in both rural and urban areas.
“Africa has 470 edible insect species. About 250 of these are found in East Africa, which is facing the challenge of food security and malnutrition,” he adds.
Prof Sofia Boqvist, heading edible insect project at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, says although Swedish people don’t traditionally eat insects, they are showing interest.
“This could gain momentum, and in future, it could trigger an export market,” she says.
Apart from edible insects, scientists look at the black soldier, cockroaches and houseflies as potential animal feeds. Insect droppings can be organic fertiliser, while ‘insect tourism’ is an opportunity, with people visiting model farms for training.