BY GODFREY WERE JUMA
Cricket farming in Kenya has become a valuable source of income to a group of farmers in Nyanza region. Crickets are black/brown insects that belong to the class insecta, order Orthoptera and genus Acheta. They are categorised into two groups; house cricket and field cricket.
It is the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) that is widely reared in Nyanza region of Kenya, where some organisations have trained a number of youth and women groups to empower them with this entrepreneurial activity.
The cricket farming in Kenya success story started some three years ago and many other farmers have welcomed the idea. This art of insect rearing for commercial purposes originated from the Netherlands, but has now spread to different parts of the world including Kenya.
Farmers in Kenya utilise buckets/crates where female adults lay fertilised eggs under a wet cotton wool. After a month, the eggs hatch into nymphs that feed on vegetables, soy flour and water.
It takes three months for crickets to mature into adult stage. An adult cricket weighs about 0.5-1.5grammes. Unlike the conventional sources of protein such as bovine, fish and pigs, crickets have a higher feed conversion ratio converting most of their feed into edible portion/protein.
Harvesting is manual where the mature crickets are emptied into boiling water for about 5 minutes (blanching).
They are then cooled in cold water before being dried in a solar drier to a moisture content of below five per cent. This reduces the growth of bacteria and molds, making them have an extended shelf-life and safe for human consumption.
Crickets can be used directly as food or ground into flour to fortify other foods. Cricket flour can be used as an ingredient to make products such as biscuits, cakes, porridge, chapati and mandazi. For example cricket farmers in Bondo have been incorporating cricket flour to make different confectioneries. Their counterparts in Kisumu have used the same in cake baking.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed given the fact that some cricket farmers were invited to showcase some of these products at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that was held in Nairobi in July last year during the Obama visit to Kenya.
Due to their high nutritional value, cricket-based baked products attract high profits, where a medium size cake costs Sh500. There is a lot of research that is going on in institution such as Egerton University, JKUAT and Icipe to find out the actual nutritional and other potential benefits of these insects and their likelihood of being incorporated into many other foods and feeds.
However, preliminary results have shown that crickets have high protein content of over 60g/100g dry weight basis. This is higher than that of soybean (by 49 per cent dry weight basis) and beef (by 36 per cent dry weight basis), which are among the common conventional sources of proteins.
The high protein content can be utilised to solve the Protein-Energy-Malnutrition (PEM), a condition that is evident in children suffering from kwashiorkor and marasmus. Such children appear wasted, and stunted.
Therefore, entomophagy can contribute towards reduction in food insecurity especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from protein, crickets are rich sources of fats, especially the polyunsaturated fatty acids which have many health benefits, and minerals such as iron and zinc. These minerals are very important in children’s growth and development.
The climate change has resulted into unpredictable weather patterns. Farmers are no longer able to predict rainfall patterns and as a result the productivity of traditional crops such as maize millet, sorghum and beans has gone down.
However, rearing of crickets is independent of climate change. Farmers are able to rear them throughout the year and thus their profitability is sustained.
One of the contributors of climate change is increased emission of greenhouse gases. Compared to crickets, cattle produces more than 300 times more greenhouse gases than crickets per kilogram of body mass gained.
The amount of water that is required for the growth of these insects is relatively low compared to other animals that are reared at home. In addition, only a small size of land is required to rear crickets. A house with an area of four by three square metres can accommodate 100 crates of crickets.
Each crate is being sold at between Sh. 700 and Sh. 1500. Therefore a farmer with 100 crates can fetch between Sh. 70, 000 and Sh. 150,000 within a period of three months.
Cost of production is too low because they feed on materials that are cheap and readily available and they are fed twice a day — morning and evening. This practice therefore presents an alternative farming method.
Despite their high investment returns and high nutritional benefits, many communities have not embraced entomophagy and insect rearing. They view insect consumption with disgust and as a primitive practice.
In Kenya for example, only the communities within the Western and Nyanza regions are known to consume insects such as termites (tsiswa) and crickets (onjiri).
There is thus the need to create more awareness on the health and economic benefits of edible insects such as crickets.
With the devolved system of governance, more resources can be channeled into such farming projects to economically empower communities (especially the youth) and alleviate protein malnutrition.
The demand for these insects is increasing but the supply is still low. There is thus the need to sensitise all stake holders on sustainable production to meet the demands.