The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), one of the research organisations in Africa, is developing and extending tools and strategies for farmers’ productivity. The organisation, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, is lowering the cost of production, using new innovations. In this way, it is advancing agricultural production in the continent.
One of the emerging technology development programmes of the organisation is insects for feed and food, which is designed to improve the health of the people and animals. This programme is already attracting attention across the continent.
Conducting journalists round their research facilities, the director, Research and Partnership of the organisation, Dr Sunday Ekesi, said they operated in four key areas – human, animal, plant and environmental health, adding that they have been collaborating with over 30 universities across the continent.
Ekesi also said the institute partners with over 300 organisations on many of their programmes within the four paradigms, developing technology that is beneficial to farmers and environmentally friendly.
One of their flagship researches is the “Insect for Food and Feed” project, which demonstrates how local insects that are considered pests can also provide nutritional benefits for animal and human health.
Dr Sevgan Subramanian, the principal scientist and head of Arthropods Pathology Unit, conducted journalists round two laboratories, where he leads the research on breeding local locusts and grasshoppers.
In the laboratories, locusts and grasshoppers are bred separately, focusing on three species. The researcher said the result so far showed remarkable prospect.
The technology is still under controlled environments and cannot be released for commercial cultivation yet because these insects are also harmful agricultural pests that need regulatory approval from relevant bodies.
Locusts are consumed in Kenya, Uganda and some parts of Nigeria. According to Dr Subramanian, it contains over 60 per cent of more nutritional value to both humans and animals when compared to other animal products. He added that the grasshopper was in its sixth generation.
The research organisation is working with Kenyan regulatory bodies to address laws that will affect its use, both for feeds and food. When that is done, feed companies and farmers will have new frontiers and revolution in livestock feeds.
Beside locust and grasshoppers, there is another huge research project designed to replace soybeans and maize, with other insects in poultry, fish and livestock feed.
Dr Chrysantus Mbi Tanga has been leading the research for the breeding of crickets and black soldier flies since 2012. These include three species of crickets and black soldier flies.
These insects are harvested and processed into powder form and used as the major nutritional ingredients in feeds. Already, masters’ and PhD students from all over Africa are doing research in most of these areas.
Our reporter spoke with young farmers who intend to start organic poultry and catfish farms, targeting export.
The insects were collected in glass containers with regulated temperatures and fed according to their systems. For example, locusts and grasshoppers were fed with grasses and fresh growing maize leaves. But crickets were served breweries and other grains as food.
Also, paper egg crates were collected into the glass containers to provide hiding places for them. Bolls of cotton were also included in the boxes for the female crickets to lay eggs and hide them because the male crickets feed on them.
Dr Tanga, a Cameroonian researcher, said a farmer doesn’t need to worry himself about feeding as they can eat almost anything. He
added that a small scale farmer could harvest up to 800kg every three months, depending on the size because a thousand of the insects give a kilogram.
It was said that insect-based meals would address the huge issue of antibiotics used in livestock across Africa.
The research, when fully commercialised, will provide the protein requirements for the feed industry and boost the productivity of many fish, poultry and other livestock farmers, the researchers emphasized.
The crickets can be harvested by removing the paper egg crates and shaking it. This way, the crickets will fall at the bottom, then collected. It can be sun-dried, or using other technology, processed into powder for the feed component. According to results from the ongoing studies in the organisation and presentation before journalists, it can also be used as cookies .
Explaining the project, Dr Mbi Tanga said that with the technology, a farmer could harvest a lot of other value chain benefits, which can increase their household incomes.
Already, some farmers in central Kenya have started growing the cricket because it is also a delicacy in that part of the country and Uganda.
“In terms of health, insects are so distant from humans that although they have some diseases, their disease cannot be easily passed to humans. That is a very big advantage insects play in terms of food. So with those benefits, there is every reason to encourage insect farming,” he said.
At the black soldier flies laboratory, Dr Tanga showed how different studies on the use of insects in feed produced better results than the conventional ones.
The researcher presented the studies done on tilapia, catfish, broilers, layers and swine, saying they have shown that farmers get better outcome compared to other feeds.
He noted that in poultry, a farmer could obtain up to 53 per cent more of eggs than using other normal feeds.
The “Insect for Feed and Food” project is funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Canadian government agency providing financial support for research in developing countries to promote growth, reduce poverty and drive large-scale positive change.
Dr Jemimah Njuki, a senior programme specialist, Agriculture and Food Security at the IDRC, said their target was to replace soybeans and maize, or at least reduce its dependence with high insect nutrients, which are disease free.
She also said the conducted trials showed that the productivity of the animal remarkably increased, especially poultry egg production, which went up by over 50 per cent