Entomophagy,the practice of consumption of insects as food is fast gaining popularity in parts of Kenya
A hotel near you could soon be serving a sumptuous meal of fried creamy locust, cricket in vegetable salad or chopped marinated termites.
The food sector in Kenya is currently embracing entomophagy where edible insect species are bred, fed and then prepared solely for human consumption.
This could provide a variety of menu to customers, a boost to food security and an alternative source of income for farmers.
In 2015, a cricket biscuit was formulated and used in a school feeding program in Bondo County to feed 54 pupils at Nyakasumbi Primary School. The benefits from the consumption of insects as food further propelled the study to investigate whether Kenyan consumers were willing to pay for edible insects’ food products, known for their improved nutritional quality. The study by GREENiNSECT, a combined effort by the country’s agricultural universities and Denmark, discovered a market niche for Kenyans with an appetite for edible insects.
An encouraging number of Kenyans were open to the idea of eating bread baked with cricket powder for its improved nutritional value. The study discovered that a majority of Kenyans would readily devour processed foods containing termites and crickets as part of the ingredients of the food product.
With this interesting discovery, many Kenyans are making ventures into this area. In a market place in Bondo, a kilogram of crickets is fried, salted, packaged and sold at an average of Ksh 300.The meal is also famous in parts of Western Kenya, Nairobi and Migori. Insect consumption is perceived as a cheap and affordable option for people coming from economically challenged backgrounds, mostly in rural areas. Higher learning institutions like Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have developed a cricket farm to tap into insect farming.
The farm trains and educates farmers on the techniques of insect farming for maximum production. The department has also come up with interesting recipes to captivate people who appreciate fine dining and combine insect consumption in a twist of modernized traditional cuisine.
Dr. John Kinyuru, a Lecturer in the Food Science Department, Faculty of Agriculture at JKUAT is focused in making the farm more productive to reap larger profits for stakeholders in the investment.
He says, “the farm will optimize conditions for medium and large scale cricket farming; develop animal feed using mature crickets, build capacity and develop dissemination manual on cricket farming and utilization.”
An alternative source of protein
A diverse diet made up of both plant and animal products is documented to be the best way of securing nutrient adequacy. For
populations which are always struggling to get food on the table, diets often lack sufficient amounts of animal source foods like meat, fish, milk and eggs to support good nutrition and health. Micro nutrient deficiencies are widespread and create serious public health problems.
To this regard, a study by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) recommends insect eating as part of the solution to the problem. The agricultural institution conducted a research on more than 2000 edible insect species in Africa. Kenya’s most popular was recorded to be the termites, lake flies and crickets. Different edible termites from Western Kenya were found to contain a sufficient amount of protein. A house cricket had a protein composition of about 65 percent and 20 per cent fat with traces of amino acid.
Consuming insects is being advocated for by scientists in situations where natural disasters may occur. In such areas which have been ravaged by drought, or flooding, people scramble for the little available food. Insects would therefore provide an alternative for victims and a reprieve for aid workers.
The scientists also recommend it as cheaper alternative source of proteins to patients who are required to maintain a balanced diet, these include patients with HIV and AIDS.
Insects are an affordable source of proteins compared to options like meat,eggs or milk.
Other Kenyans prefer edible insects for its nutritious value. Insects have an average of 30 per cent in protein content, 20 per cent of fat and a crispy texture feel making insects a favourite meal for many households.
Gloria Nekesa always looks forward to rainy seasons. The downpour brings with it blessings of edible termites which she collects to feed her four children.
Nekesa has been brought up to identify suitable insects for each season as not all the species of termites are consumed in her locality.
From this naturally occuring food, consumers obtain micro nutrients such as vitamin A, iron, zinc, a higher proportion of essential amino acids as well as the essential omega three fatty acids.
For Nekesa, she does not have to part with any money. All she needs is a container to collect the tiny insects. The essential nutrients can alternatively be sourced from the cod liver oil which is extracted from the liver of cod fish.
For one to practice large scale farming of insects such as crickets, permits from the Kenya Wildlife Service have to be obtained in order for the breeder to adhere to regulations. The permit is designed to match the wildlife domestication procedures and the regulation of transporting such livestock.
Edible insects have an international market too. Global data indicates that over a billion people globally are feeding on insects.
To exploit this enormous market, proper legislation has to be put in place. For it to be exported internationally, it has to meet a quality standard regulated by a statutory body. Kenya however lacks a developed export market for insects.
Another challenge arises from the harvesting methods. Most edible insects in Kenya are harvested directly from nature by traps or are gathered by hand. However, harvesting insects has the potential to be a threat to both the target species and to the environment. Given the diversity of insect species and the complexity of the environment in which they inhabit, many opportunities exist to improve sustainable harvesting through better understanding of their biology, ecology, and ecosystem functions as documented by research.
Rearing of insects is not limited to human consumption only as they can be used as animal feeds. Cricket feeds are fed to broilers for faster weight gain to maximize profits for poultry farmers. Research institutions are still tapping more information to educate the community in this age old African cuisine.
Meanwhile, the farmers have to focus on popularizing insects’ consumption across all regions to be acceptable to a wider majority.