By Carolyne Kipkoech, PhD student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology
I am a Kenyan national, with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where I graduated in 2005. I always had a passion for disease prevention, which is why I later studied a Master of Science in Immunology at Moi University where I graduated in 2009. After my master’s degree, I worked with the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) Programme. This exposed me to the broader field of Public Health, although still with a focus on disease prevention though improved nutrition.
In 2015, I merited a scholarship under the Danish Agency for International Development through GREEiNSECT to undertake a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition at JKUAT. For my thesis research, I am working on “Use of edible cricket to improve child nutrition in Kenya”. My inspiration for this topic was derived from the fact that house crickets (Acheta domesticus), common across Africa, are a highly valuable yet neglected source of proteins.
Insects are a delicacy in many parts of the world, including Africa, but for many communities in Africa they do not constitute a main diet. Crickets in particular have higher quality animal protein than some conventional sources, such as fish, and are more affordable among poor communities. Additionally, they thrive in various environmental conditions -including dry areas, they multiply in a short span of two months, use very little space, and feed on organic waste that they then turn into high quality protein. They can thus be a viable solution to food security challenges. Given the nutritional importance of crickets and other edible insects, I am keen, as a young researcher, to build a research agenda on the use of insects as food.
When I started my research on crickets, many friends and colleagues at the university wondered what I was up to. To them it was a laughing matter. Nonetheless, I soldiered on and the first time I harvested crickets, everyone I run in to on campus stopped to look. I smiled as I proudly showed off the crickets and some even followed me to the lab to see what I would do next.
Once at the lab, I dipped one part of the crickets into hot water for one minute and then sun-dried them to be later ground for use in making porridge, cookies and other sweet delicacies. The other part I deep-fried to get crispy crickets that would be eaten whole by those brave enough. To my surprise, the deep fried crickets were everyone’s favourite because of their delicious aroma and taste.
The biggest endorsement of our cricket products happened during the Sixth Tokyo International Conference of Africa’s Development (TICAD) held in Nairobi in 2016. At a conference pre-event hosted at JKUAT, the Vice Chancellor invited the conference participants to sample our crickets. You would not believe what happened after the invitation; everyone was keen to sample the crickets! They tasted not once, not twice, but took several helpings until there was no more! The enthusiastic reception of the cricket meal could have also been due to the presence of participants from different countries, continents and cultures, some of whom had tasted cricket before and helped to demystify their consumption as food.
After this exposition, the crickets were on high demand in JKUAT and its environs and the story made news in the Kenyan media.
With the increasing global population, one of the strategies to improve food and nutrition security is to diversify diets using available food sources. We actually have plenty of food around us, but we do not exploit it. I look forward to the day when crickets will be widely accepted across cultures in Africa and world over as part of the daily diet so that more people will get access to quality cheap protein.
Kenya is already taking maiden steps towards exploiting the high protein value of crickets by using it to address child malnutrition. A pilot initiative in Uasin Gishu County, is currently providing cricket porridge to school going children between the ages of three and five years. It is my wish that other countries and communities will follow suit and make use of this wonder food.
Both Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT) and Moi University that the writer attended, are members of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM). RUFORUM is a Network of 66 universities in 26 countries in Africa. Carolyn Kipkoech can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com