Edible Insect Markets to Expand in Africa

The sun was shining brightly last Sunday in beautiful Santa Monica as I sat down with a closet friend to enjoy some mimosas and brunch food. Our catch up on life and work was suddenly interrupted as she abruptly stood up and spilled her beverage all over. What caused the frenzy? A cricket had landed on her lap.

Now, my friend knows I eat bugs and joked that I could add the cricket to my brunch. I gave my reply of, “Well… I try to stick to farm-raised bugs.” Situations similar to these are common occurrences for me and serve to remind me of the PR work we, the entomophagy-minded, have to do.

While entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) has existed for thousands of years, Western society still scoffs at the thought of touching insects. Other cultures, however, are more quickly waking up to the increasingly scalable methods available to ventures related to edible insects.

In Kenya, scientists have proposed eating insects to help curb food insecurity and malnutrition. Sunday Ekesi, principal scientist at the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, said edible insects have huge market potential.

“We have discovered that locally available insects can play a significant role in food security, storage, hygiene and safety issues,” Ekesi told Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation. “There is a huge market potential for the insects. We encourage communities to take up the venture for improved livelihoods.”

Expanding the market around edible insects could provide huge assistance in the continued efforts addressing food insecurity across Africa. In Kenya alone, some 1.5 million people needed food assistance in 2014 (U.S. Agency for International Development).

Edible insects provide a solution that is economical and environments. Insects are exothermic – they do not waste energy turning their food into heat, but instead are incredibly efficient at turning what they eat into body mass.  Some insects require less than 25% of feed when compared to cows (The Baltimore Sun). And they’re just as, if not more, nutritious. Mealworms, provide as much protein, vitamins and minerals as fish and meat, for example. And small grasshoppers contain just as much protein as lean ground beef, with less fat per gram, (National Geographic).

Some surprising insects may hold the most potential for improving food and nutritional security (as well as the incomes) of rural African communities. Take the stink bug- widely found and eaten in parts of southern Africa. The International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology found the stink bug is also rich in nutrients and antioxidants. However, we have a huge need for improved care in the harvesting and storage of the edible stink bugs to ensure safety and nutritional value:

“Edible stink bugs are usually collected from tree branches and are then killed using either warm water or heat, before being stored in woven wooden baskets or used grain bags, for later consumption or sale. We found that these traditional harvesting and storage practices of the insect can lead to fungal contamination,” researchers warned (International Business Times). 

In fact, there are over 1,000 different edible insect species, each with different nutritional values. Nutritional value can vary for a variety of reasons including metamorphic stage, habitat, diet and preparation style (The Baltimore Sun).

The benefits of expanding the edible insect market expand beyond their nutritional value. Insects have incredible economic potential – the process of farming, packaging and selling edible insects can create thousands of jobs for impoverished Africans who lack a secure source of income. Raising insects also requires much less land than traditional livestock. Not to mention, insects emit fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock (International Business Times).

Progress is being made. Edible insect farming is a growing market in Africa, where 5-10% of protein reportedly already comes from insects. Stay tuned!

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