In a small room at a university in Nakuru County, two researchers are working on a unique innovation that is set to boost food security and provide farmers with fortified feed for their animals and a new source of revenue.
Egerton University’s Dr John Nduko and Dr Anthony King’ori have discovered a new technique to harvest and process insects, specifically grasshoppers and termites, into sustainable, affordable protein to make affordable nutritious foods.
They are now focusing on developing a tool kit to make rearing the insects easier for small-scale farmers, and to earn some revenue.
“When growing up, we loved chasing grasshoppers, competing to catch the largest. We would then skewer them after removing the legs and wings and putting a stick through them. This delicacy was crunchy and delicious. However, what we did not know was that eating grasshoppers was very good for us,” says Dr Nduko
. “What we were doing as children was nothing new or unique as eating insects has been a practice of humans from time immemorial, especially in Africa, with ‘kumbe kumbe’ being among the favourites.”
Insects serve as important components of diets in some cultures and more than 1,900 species have been used as food. They are highly nutritious and healthy, and rich in proteins, vitamins, fat, fibre and minerals. Animal feeds derived from these insects are of a high quality similar to fishmeal and soy-based feeds.
Grasshoppers are healthy, nutritious and packed with high amounts of protein and oils that are good for the body and essential for development. In Kenya and many other African countries, protein is expensive and out of reach for many who really need it.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), one out of every four children in the sub-Saharan Africa is malnourished, and 39 per cent of Kenyan children suffer from chronic malnutrition due to poverty, more than double the emergency threshold.
The world population is growing rapidly and increasing demand for food, especially high-protein foods such as beef, poultry, fish, rabbits, chicken and pigs. An upsurge in the demand for feeds could have devastating environmental consequences. The feeds are costly, especially the protein components, which often come from traditional sources such as soybean, fish, cotton, and sunflower cakes
The largescale production of these feeds will have a traumatic effect on the environment as more feed production companies go for the cheaper chemical alternatives. To help stem these consequences, there is a need for new sources of proteins, and insects became the choice of the Egerton University researchers, who have turned to grasshoppers to harness their proteins and oils.
After capturing grasshoppers and locusts, they rear them to multiply, then dry and turn them into protein-rich powder that can be used to fortify baby formula and also as a protein-rich feed for small non-ruminant animals.
The powder is used as a supplement in other foods due to its high protein concentration. It is edible, has no taste and can be added directly to food or during cooking. The supplement can be used as the protein component in making animal feeds, replacing the more expensive alternatives such as fish.