By Bernard Wainaina,
One of my brother’s favourite childhood memories is when he gobbled a live bee.
He must have been three or four.
Apparently my dad saw him pick the bee up (which in itself is a remarkable achievement) but rushed in too late to prevent the swallowing.
In my tribe,(Kikuyu),insects are only often eaten by children,often in the early formative years when experimentation is at its best.
I remember in my boyhood days we used to roast ticks,grasshoppers and termites when grazing livestok out in the field especially during the cold seasons of June to August in portable wood heater tins that were used for warming ourselvels when out in the fields.
Eating an insect, how disgusting, right?
You could be wrong.
Insects are going to form the bulk of our future food and this practice has already started in earnest here in Kenya.
A visit to Uganda’s capital, Kampala,and Kigali in Rwanda will expose you to an interesting scene.
Unlike most Kenyan hawkers in Nairobi who focus on selling smokies and eggs, the streets of Kampala are full of hawkers selling fried crickets and grasshoppers.
Because of the huge supply, the product is sold at low prices, with a 30-gramme pack of fried crickets
retailing at Sh10.
But Kenyan streets may soon resemble Uganda’s.
Ironically,even those of us who are disgusted by this idea eat tons of insects in our lifetime,albeit unknowingly.
Consider the following short excerpt of a report by FDA in US;
“The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook lays it all out. Staples like broccoli, canned tomatoes, and hops readily contain “insect fragments”—heads,
thoraxes, and legs—and even whole insects.
(I won’t tell you about the rat hair limits levels allowed in cereal snacks like Witterbix…).
Jam paste can harbor up to 13 insect heads in 100 grams; canned fruit juices can contain a maggot
for every 250 [millimetres]; 10 grams of hops(used in beer industry) can be the home for 2,500 aphids [arghhh]”
And ofcourse,every one who has eaten raw honey(unrefined),unlike my hapless kid brother, has eaten some mangled parts of bees,their eggs,brood etc!
The disgust you may be experiencing right now is unfortunate.
Because insects may be the key to our future.
Looking at population growth alone, the global population will reach 9 billion people in 2050 and will require that we produce twice as much food than we do today.
Now factor in the rise of the middle class, with its subsequent demand for protein, and harsher environmental conditions we will have to battle with, and it becomes vividly clear that our current food
production systems will be taken by storm very soon.
Back now to a case study in Kenya;
Mr Otieno Alula, a cricket farmer in Bondo, is accustomed to people turning up their noses at his trade.
In July 2012, when the Kisumu Agricultural Show opened its gates and gave thousands of farmers a
chance to showcase their products, Mr Alula was among them.
Though many thronged his stand, he couldn’t help but notice how skeptical they were of his products.
“I have heard even paupers say they would rather die of hunger than try eating fried crickets, but I dare anyone to try them and see if they won’t smack their lips with relish after biting into just one crispy
How I wish people would get over some stereotypes and be open to diverse experiences,” he says.
Alula says one can start breeding crickets with less than Sh500, and earn as much as Sh5,000 a day.
The middle-aged farmer started rearing crickets when looking for a meal that would supplement his
Today, cricket rearing is his main activity.
“There is a huge market for crickets not only in Kenya, but also in Europe and Saudi Arabia.
What began as a small-time side job has slowly become my main hustle and I now have thousands of crickets.”
During the show, there were other farmers displaying different items made with crickets, which included sausages, cookies, cakes and biscuits.
The insects can also be used to make rich soups, or bait
Alula says crickets are easy to trap and available all year round.
They are rich in zinc, iron, copper and proteins.
Bondo University’s Department of Food Security in Kisumu has been training farmers to rear crickets to
enhance the country’s food security.
Alula says farmers have formed groups and rear the crickets, dry them and work with the university and other stakeholders to access export markets.
Crickets are easy to breed and require minimal space.
A one-square-foot box can hold about 1,200 crickets.
You can involve children in breeding them, and even turn the activity into a school project, especially in
kindergartens and primary schools.
However, remember that crickets chirp all night, so keep them in an area where they will not disturb
you or your neighbours.
Each female cricket lays five to 10 eggs a day in her lifetime, which means the insects are constantly
They also require little feeding and
Alula says the insects can keep for more than three months when dried and stored in a cool place.
One of the most popular ways to capture crickets is to use large shiny iron sheets lined up vertically into
a bucket, with a bright bulb suspended between the
At night, the insects will be attracted to the light and begin to circle the bulb until they fall onto the sheets and slide into the bucket.
It is hard for them to escape once they are in the bucket.
Alula, who got his training from Bondo University,says he rears his crickets in a small bucket that has
a source of light to keep the insects lively.
He covers this bucket at the top with a transparent mesh to let
Ensure the storage bucket you use is large enough for all your insects because if the insects breed in a
very confined space, they may begin to eat each other.
Crickets also require a high-protein diet, so feed them on things like dried fish or cat food.
You can supplement this diet with vegetables.
Wait for the eggs to hatch, which takes about a week, and once they have done so, avoid touching
the baby crickets but make sure you keep them warm.
They will mature in about two to three weeks,and at this stage, are ready for market.
As it turns out, at least two billion people actively consume insects as part of their diets.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caterpillars are abundantly available all year round in markets.
A quick google search tells us that caterpillars have a nutty (to be more specific enoki-pine nutty) or fruity taste and clearly Congolese are fond of them.
One household, in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, eats about 300 g of caterpillars a week on average.
This equates to an astonishing 96 tonnes of caterpillars consumed in the city annually.
While in African countries, insects are mostly eaten by the natives, in Southeast Asia, a plethora of insects, prepared and concocted in different ways, is increasingly marketed to tourists.
It’s no surprise really, considering the surge of tourists to this part of the world.
And the fact that between 150-200
species of insects are consumed in Southeast Asia.
The most delicious insects?
Globally, beetles and caterpillars are consumed as much as all other
edible insects taken together.
But bees (as my brother can attest to), wasps and ants are popular
too, accounting for a whopping 14% global insect consumption.
Cicadas, locusts, crickets,dragonflies,flies are not spared either.
While two billion people are perfectly fine with eating insects, the remaining five billion are mostly
on the opposite end of the “like spectrum.”
It seems weird that such a common practice is frowned upon so much by others, isn’t it?
The disconnect, perhaps
unsurprisingly, stems from the westernisation of diets and cultures.
Why do most of us find eating insects disgusting?
Native American tribes, for instance, had a long history of eating insects.
But as Western cultures began to interact with (and sometimes decimate) them, the West imposed their own values onto the tribes, discouraging and suppressing the practice.
In their eyes, eating insects was considered primitive.
Some indigenous groups in sub-Saharan Africa were similarly afflicted—and much more recently too.
In the village of Sanambele in Mali, children routinely hunt and eat grasshoppers as snack food.
In a village where many children were already at risk of suffering from kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition
caused by protein deficiency in the diet, grasshoppers offered a welcome source of protein.
Sadly, since 2010, the fields where the children would hunt for grasshoppers are sprayed with
pesticides to ensure maximum yield of cotton harvested from neighbouring cotton fields.
The Malian farmers were advised by their Western counterparts, who took no notice of Sanambele’s
population and culture.
Now the children are mostly
forbidden to hunt and eat grasshoppers for fear that
they may be intoxicated by pesticides.
The insect population has plummeted anyway due to regular spraying of the fields.
Funnily enough, the five billion people who are not fond of insects, are insect-eaters too, albeit unknowing ones, at the tune of “two pounds of flies,maggots and other bugs each year.”
Even more fascinating is that we are actually eating them as part of lunch and dinner.
And the FDA knows all about it!
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®