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Wild-Caught Protein: Grasshoppers, Locusts Help Curb Malnourishment in E. Africa

Published: Tuesday, 28 Feb 2017
Author: Katie Deska
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Proteins are known as the body's building blocks, but for many people in Kenya, protein sources are too expensive, leading to nutrient-poor diets linked to diseases and cognitive development problems. To improve availability of protein-rich food, researchers John Nduko and Anthony King'ori, of Egerton University, turned to wild-caught protein, namely grasshoppers and locusts.

Collected in Kenya's Nakuru and Baringo counties, the research team launched the project by foraging about 50 insects, mostly locust, in 2016. "It was difficult to find them," said Nduko. "Climate change has had an effect, and this made us expand the geographical areas to find the most abundant insects."

Kept in small cages, the bugs continue to multiply while researchers work to establish the best incubator conditions for reproduction and hatching. "In one month we'll have a huge number. After we have lots of insects, we'll freeze dry them and they'll be ground into a powder."

Funded through a start-up grant from the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, Nduko and King'ori partnered to develop a toolkit that would make insect rearing and processing available to smallholder farmers, providing a cheap and low-risk method of generating more protein for human consumption and animal feed. Once dried and ground, the insect powder can be fed to babies in sorghum or millet porridge, and can be fed to fatten up chickens, rabbits and other non-ruminant animals.

When used as animal feed, locust and grasshoppers can save farmers money, and offer a much-needed alternative to traditional feed sources.

"With increased population, and increases in living standards, the demand for protein-rich foods is increasing, and this in turn increases demand for animal feeds, which have serious environmental effect. A lot of animal feeds are sourced from fish, and because of climate change, some fish from the wild are becoming extinct. Dairy and beef cattle are becoming a challenge because the amount of available land is shrinking, and most small-scale farmers cannot do that," said Nduko. "The small-scale farmer can rear non-ruminant animals, such as poultry, however, the cost of feed hinders productivity and this keeps most farmers under the cycle of this poverty. 70 percent of the production cost for chicken is just to feed them. But, if you use insects that eat grass, it's cheap and requires only a small space."

By facilitating the rearing and processing of grasshopper and locust for food products, Nduko said, "We foresee a situation to provide inexpensive food and feed, to contribute to the end of malnutrition, and contribute to food security in Kenya and Africa. The market is there."

With the pilot in full swing and small scale production underway, researchers are focused on scaling up the model, and collaborating with industry leaders. In a stakeholders meeting next month, Nduko and King'ori will discuss the project with representatives from the baby food and chicken feed industries.

"Despite challenges, we are moving well so far. The number of people who expect our project to develop into an inexpensive method of obtaining proteins is overwhelming, at the same time encouraging," said Nduko.

Michigan State University's Global Center for Food Systems Innovation addresses critical pressures on the world's food supply by creating, testing and enabling the scaling of solutions. GCFSI takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire food system and considers major environmental, economic and social trends, as well as workforce development needs that will impact future food security.  Launched in 2012, GCFSI is one of eight development labs established through the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development.