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Climate change/Malnutrition: Why we should focus on edible insects — Professor Cordelia Ebenebe

By Ebele Orakpo

Professor Cordelia Ebenebe

With the problems of climate change, food insecurity, malnutrition among others, plaguing the world, scientists world over have warned of the dire consequences of climate change if humans fail to change the way they live. In a publication in the journal, Bioscience, the scientists say that without a significant change in the way we live, the earth will become a hothouse earth state that can’t be controlled by man.  Surprisingly, rising meat consumption was named among the contributors to climate change. In this interview with Professor Cordelia Ebenebe, Associate Professor of Microlivestock at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, she speaks on alternatives to meat, saying that protein from our edible local insects can be the solution to malnourished children especially in the IDP camps. According to a report,14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock, with beef alone accounting for 41%.

Excerpts:

Crickets

In so many parts of the world now, they have developed the house cricket called Acheta domesticus but our local edible cricket, the big brownish one, called Brachytrupes membranaceus(Abuzu in Igbo language), that’s the one we eat here, our people hardly eat Acheta domesticus, and so when we searched for Brachytrupes membranaceus, we couldn’t find it, it was as if it was going into extinction. We then realised that in a particular town in Enugu State, Achi, up till where they have boundary with Okigwe area in Imo State,  they eat it in quantum. They use it to prepare local dishes like abacha (African salad) and Egusi soup. I did a report and sent to African Association of Insect Scientists and they were excited.

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Searching for crickets

We found out that people in those communities know of trees under which Brachytrupes membranaceus can easily be found; you don’t need to dig deep. In every other place, you really have to dig deep to get the crickets. When we did the study in Atani, Anambra State, we had to dig deep and then pour water into the pit before the crickets came up. But in this case, as soon as they identify those trees, if you dig a little, you find the crickets; so they dig them out in their numbers and sell in the market. The female appears fatty and tastier than the male so anyone that catches more of the females makes more money.

Simulation

So what we did was to collect the soil, the fruits and leaves of the trees to identify and we are trying to see if it is possible to simulate the environment and have the crickets grow because it is edible and people like it.

Preference

We first did a study on the preference of our people to the consumption of some of the edible insects around. From that study, we found out that people prefer the cricket but because it is not available, and the termite that they like is seasonal, as a result, they eat more of the African palm weevil so based on all of that, we now want to focus our study on the cricket.

Black Soldier Fly Larva

Another study we are doing which we submitted to TeTfund and to our Technology Innovation Centre, is the Black Soldier Fly Larva. This is an insect that can multiply in millions within five days and because of that, most countries including Ghana, Kenya and Cameroun, have established Black Soldier Fly Larva farms. The larva appears like the bigger form of maggot. They  use it to replace fish meal used in producing fish feed and all livestock feed. Fish meal is very costly and is needed in production of livestock feed if the feed must have the expected nutrient composition.  South Africa has the biggest farm in the whole of Africa.

Best climate

When I went to Netherland, I visited more than five farms that produce the Black Soldier Fly Larva in tons. They produce it under a kind of climate control chamber because of their climate. We were told that our climate in the tropics is the best because it requires 28o Celsius and  high humidity and that is what we have almost all year. We have our ambient temperature at around 27o Celsius and so we don’t need any climate chamber so ours will just multiply naturally. That’s why the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, ICIPE, in Kenya has a large farm where they train fish and poultry farmers on how to grow the Black Soldier Fly Larva on their own and use it in their farms. They also have a big farm where they produce it and sell to farmers who don’t have the capacity to produce their own. That is what we want to establish in this university, to have the Black Soldier Fly Larva farm where we can train people since this is a university.

Nutritional values of cricket The cricket has high protein content. Most of the meat we eat have 15 – 21% good protein while the cricket and the Black Soldier Fly Larva have over 30% good protein. The Food & Agricultural Organisation, FAO, has been promoting edible insects and the use of insects for fish feed and livestock feed since 2013 and the reason is this: As a way to alleviate the shortage of animal protein,everybody would aim at a massive production of livestock, so people would be advised to increase production. But it has been discovered that ruminant animals in their rumination produce methane and methane is more potent than carbon dioxide as a green house gas only that the quantity produced is not as relevant as carbon dioxide.

You find out that the more you produce these animals, the more the fecal material and this fecal material produces nitrous oxide which is a potent greenhouse gas; so FAO is saying that instead of focusing on producing more animals that have negative effects on the climate, we should augment to a large extent, with edible insects because they are environment-friendly, more nutritious than other animal protein sources and most importantly, have most of the essential fatty acids and not the ones that you have problem with cholesterol with attendant heart diseases.

The FAO and WHO have been promoting edible insects and the use of some other insects because here, we are talking of the Black Soldier Fly Larva, in some places, it might be other insects but they are talking of replacing fish meal in fish feed and livestock feed so that the cost will be reduced and the product more affordable.

Maternal/Infant mortality

For instance, Nigeria so far has the highest maternal and infant mortality and so they are thinking that if Nigeria would embrace this technology, at least I am thinking of the IDPs for whom the WHO has started producing a kind of food pack made with groundnut cake, so if we can replace that with insect meal, it will be more proteinous, it’s animal protein that the children require for the development of their intelligence quotient.

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