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From honey-making bees to fried termites: could insect science contribute to Africa’s food security?

Many crops need pollinators, and people need pollinated crops and honey. Bees, just like some other insects are very important for our survival. Photo. K. Trautmann.
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Jul 20, 2013


Vivian Atakos



Within the Luhya community in western Kenya, where I come from, termites are seen as a delicacy. Seasoned with a little salt these insects are quite enjoyable. A visit the local market and you won’t miss local women selling the fried insects when they are in season.

Different African communities enjoy various types of insects. In my neighboring country Uganda for instance, grasshoppers locally known as ‘nseneneare quite popular. It is not uncommon for local communities to turn this into a profitable business whenever they are in season. However there are many that loathe the practice.

It therefore came as no surprise to me that the question of insects for both human food and livestock feed sparked some controversy when it came up at the ongoing Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) in Accra, Ghana. This was during a side event organized by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) on ‘Science innovation for better livelihood’.

The uptake of insects is still low in Africa due to persisting perceptions.

"People think insects are not safe for human consumption due to what the insects feed on and where they move to", remarked Professor Raina Suresh of ICIPE.  

 “Insect science has large implications on health, revenue generation and sustainability of the environment,” said Professor Anthony Youdeowei during the side event.

honey could be a good  source of income for women farmers. pHOTO. K. TRAUTMANN

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations promoted insects as a low fat high protein alternative for both people and livestock in a recent publication Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security

In terms of revenue generation, insects like bees have been found as a promising alternative livelihood for smallholder farmers and especially women. With livelihood diversification, vulnerable households are empowered as they have a range of options to draw from making them food and income secure.

Learn more on: Beekeeping can help women farmers manage climate risks

Insects such as bees are also important for the survival of the environment through interdependence.

“Many crops need pollinators, and people need pollinated crops and honey”, stated Professor Suresh during a presentation on ICIPE’s bee health project, which is promoting beekeeping for pollination purposes in Kenya.

Connecting insects with climate change

According to Professor Suresh there are a number of potential impacts climate change might have on bees and pollination, but much is still not known. This includes the impact of climate change on bee-diseases and pests in Africa. Further research into this area is needed.

As climate change is a common problem in the world and Africa is feeling the worst of its effects, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) East Africa is testing promising climate change adaptation, mitigation and risk management interventions with partners through an interesting model: The Climate-Smart Villages.