Twenty-nine year old Kofi Kafui Kornu remembers with nostalgia his visits to his grandparents’ home growing up in the Volta region of Ghana. Despite the fact that he last visited the village over three years ago, he cherishes memories of the palm wine tappers partaking in a delicacy of silk worms.
“When the tappers would return home from their farms they carried with them a bowl of worms collected from the palm trees. The insects would be boiled and eaten as an accompaniment to their dinner,” he said.
A young ICT and mathematics teaching assistant at the Catholic University in Sunyani, Kornu says that though he never took the opportunity to eat the worms himself, he shared experiences with all his schoolmates. “I can picture myself eating the worms, now. I’ll definitely try them when I get the opportunity to go back to the village.”
Insect eating in Ghana, as in many African countries, is not an uncommon practice. In the north of the country, tribes like the Frafra also collect and fry the termites which are attracted to light after a rainfall. After removing the wings, the termites are fried without oil and eaten dry. His friends at the university hailing from that region often taunt him that once he starts eating termites he will never stop!
Kornu counts himself fortunate to have such a unique cultural background even though he was born and bred in Tema in the greater Accra area.
The most commonly consumed insect in Africa according to the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) is the cricket, which is preferably consumed either by frying, smoking or drying in the sun–the method used depends on the community in question. In Algeria, the desert locust is a good protein source that is ‘harvested,’ soaked in salt water and dried in the sun.
Caterpillar eating is most common in central African countries and in Botswana, where either the legs of the caterpillars are removed and the insect deep fried, or the gut is removed before it is cooked. In every 100 grams of dried caterpillars, there are about 53 grams of protein. The bugs are about 15 percent fat and 17 percent carbohydrate–a higher fat and carb content than a similar amount of prime beef.
The Mopane worm common in Zimbabwe is the basis of a huge export business. The dried worm is sent to Botswana, South Africa and sometimes to African hotels in Europe. An FAO report released in early May actually called for increased consumption of insects, garnering both supporters and critics in equal measure.
The report “Edible insects, future prospects for food and feed security” promotes insects as a low fat, high protein diet for people, pets and livestock alike. Though at the moment two billion people eat insects globally, FAO has launched a campaign for even greater consumption as an alternative source of food for Africa’s growing population (expected to double by 2050).
According to Dr. Suresh Raina, principal research scientist with the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), uptake of insects as food is significant in Africa though still greatly hindered by negative perceptions.
“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 idea of unpalatability in their minds,” he says.
Dr. Raina notes that urbanization also plays a role in low insect consumption rates; people who used to eat insects in their rural areas do not want to be associated with the culture of poverty after moving to an urban area.
“The general public needs to be educated on the benefits of eating insects because they are more nutritious than red meat,’ he said. “Most people are just put off because of the presentation of the cooked insects, but if someone came up with a protein bars or milk shake made from insects people might be more receptive.”
He admits, in any case, that it will take time before ‘high class’ people in African cities can walk into a restaurant and order a plate of exquisitely cooked worms or other edible insects. In line with FAO’s call, ICIPE has already dedicated a department to the mass production of caterpillars and grasshoppers to repopulate the areas where the insects are highly consumed.
Bees, apparently, are a fair prospect as well. The scientist currently involved in promoting beekeeping for pollination purposes in Kenya says that he also wants to promote the consumption of drones locally and export it to the ready market in Japan.
“Male drones now have other work in the hives apart from copulating with the queen bee. They are quite a high source of protein. so apart from farmers having a bumper harvest from the cross pollination and honey which they can sell, they will also have the option of harvesting the drones to supplement their food stores,” he said.
It just goes to show, drastic cultural transformations favoring food security and diversity are slowly taking place. Now bring on the worms!
Blogpost by Sandra Chao, a social media reporter for AASW6.
Photo: Indecent Exposure