Some insects are more nutritious than red meat, more readily available and there’s a market for them, say scientists looking at ways to end endemic famine in Africa, according to a report in Africa Review.
Two billion people eat insects globally, according to a Food and Agriculture Organisation report. Insect eating in Ghana, like in many African countries, is common in some areas. Tribes like the Frafra in the north collect and fry termites attracted to light after rainfall. After the wings are plucked, the termites are fried without oil and eaten.
Crickets are the most commonly eaten insects in Africa. They are fried, smoked or sun dried, depending on local custom.
In Algeria, the desert locust is harvested, soaked in salt water and dried though it is eaten mainly by people from the country’s poorer areas, the report says.
Caterpillars are more commonly eaten in central African countries and in Botswana, where either the legs are plucked off and the insects deep-fried, or the gut is removed and the rest, cooked.
Studies show that for every 100 grams of dried caterpillars, there are about 53 grams of protein, 15 percent of fat and about 17 percent of carbohydrates – a higher content of fat and protein than would be found in a similar amount of beef.
The mopane worm, common in Zimbabwe, is big business. It is dried and exported to Botswana, South Africa and some hotels in Europe, the report says.
When the the Food and Agriculture Organisation released a report in May advocating for more consumption of insects, it attracted supporters and detractors in equal measure. “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security,” promotes insects as low-fat, high-protein diets for people, pets and livestock.
The organization launched a campaign encouraging insect eating as an alternative food source for Africa’s growing population, expected to double by 2050.
The problem is a lot of people think it’s gross. Insect-eating, though significant in Africa, is greatly hindered by perceptions, said Suresh Raina, a research scientist with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, aka Icipe.
“So many people think about what the insects do when they are alive and where they have been and this negative picture actually creates the unpalatability perception in their minds,” Raina said in the Africa Review.
Urbanization also plays a role. People who once ate insects in rural areas don’t want to be associated with what is seen as poverty.
“The general public needs to be educated on the benefits of eating insects because they are more nutritious than red meat,” Raina said. “Most of the people are just put off because of the presentation of the cooked insects but if people came up with protein bars and shakes made from insects, people would be more receptive.”
Icipe has dedicated a department for the mass production of caterpillars and grasshoppers in areas where they are eaten a lot.
It is also promoting beekeeping for pollination purposes in Kenya and promoting the consumption of drones locally and for export to a ready market in Japan, Africa Review reports.
“Studies have shown that (male drones) are quite a high source of protein,” Raina said. “So apart from farmers having a bumper harvest from the cross pollination and honey which they can sell, they will in time be able to harvest the drones to supplement their food store.”