When the Vic Hotel, Kisumu, opened its doors in 2016, to usher in the International Conference on Legislation and Policy on the Use of Insects as Food and Feed in East Africa, the evidence that the subject has attracted broad interest from research to industry, was laid bare. Participants from all over the globe gathered to assess the progress that has already been made regarding the use of insects as food and feed and to deliberate on the legislative barriers to insects’ value chains. The conference was organised by JKUAT, ICIPE, JOOUST and University of Copenhagen, Denmark under the GREEiNSECT, INSFEED, and EntoFOOD projects with an aim to setting the stage for streamlining policy and legislation framework to support use of edible insects as food and feed in East Africa. The conference attracted scientists and researchers, industry, government and international players of global repute who encouraged researchers to continuously sensitize people on the use of insects. Eighteen (18) post-graduate students from JKUAT, University of Nairobi, Egerton and JOOUST also attended and presented on-going research in edible insects. The Kenyan government was represented by officers from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya Wild Life Services, Kenya Bureau of Standards and National Museum of Kenya among others.
To set the stage, Dr. John Kinyuru (JKUAT), presented his research work on edible insects. He has been researching on edible insects for over 10 years and his work involves mass production, post-harvest management and processing of insects to acceptable, delicious, nutritious and affordable food products to combat food and nutrition insecurity. He highlighted evidenced-based successes in utilization of edible insects in managing malnutrition in Kenya and Asia. He however noted that, microbial and allergen concerns remain to be a challenge to insect consumption. Through various grants, he has set up a mass production farm for cricket at JKUAT. He is targeting at providing the much-needed protein for both humans and animals.
Addressing the conference on the global perspective of regulatory frameworks for insects as food and feed, the FAO representative based in Rome Italy, Dr. Paul Vantomme, noted that insects for food and feed are important they can improve food security and diversity of diets, protect traditional insect-consumption practices, reduce environmental impacts of livestock production, and create local employment opportunities. Dr. Vantomme observed that increasing urbanization and living standards, Per capita consumption of major food items in developing countries has been increasing from 1961, resulting in increasing demand for meat and other animals’ products and increasing pressure on the environment.
Looking at the African perspective, Mr. Mubangizi, The Managing Director, Uganda National Bureau of Standards noted that in Africa, policies and legislation were formalised during colonial era to replace the unwritten rules that had been passed on from generation to generation orally. In his speech he noted that the insect value chain has limited policy and legislation. The challenge is on legislation to become law to protect insects from extinction and conserve the environment as well as laws that protect the consumers by specifying standards among others.
Dr. Sunday Ekesi and Dr. Subramanian (ICIPE, Kenya) cited that traditional harvesting and poor postharvest handling of insects to be the key contributors to microbial contamination. Insects are good sources of proteins. Crickets, Black soldier fly, House fly are among insects on the focus. JKUAT key interest is on the use of Cricket as a food; the main focus is on studying the nutritional composition and effects of different treatments on the nutrients as well as promoting gastronomy.
Prof. Nanna Roos (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) cited that the use of insects as food could potentially help in the management of the environment. Habitat change, over exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and environmental change are key factors affecting biodiversity. Dr Helida Oyieke (NMK, Kenya) highlighted that neglected and underutilized Species (NUS) such as insects plays a role in ensuring food and nutrition security, however the NUS are facing extinction. The production of animal products emits the highest amount of greenhouse gases and consequently this has an effect on the environment. The recommendations from the conference to academia was to address knowledge gap in Inventory, Conservation of Bio and genetical diversity, protection of indigenous knowledge, developing of mass rearing technology and nutrition profiling.
From consumer scientist, Prof. Monica Ayieko (JOOUST) and a chef, Roberto Flore of the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen Denmark, edible insects should not only be promoted as a nutritional and environmentally safe food but as good food that should be consumed by all. The campaign should be multidimensional to incorporate the other elements that contribute to sustainability and integration of a diet into a different culture. Mr. Roberto emphasized on the need to build on the traditional knowledge of cultures and societies to get a deeper understanding that the concept of edible insects goes far beyond just an ingredient. The relationship between territories, flavours, culture and human beings provides an important basis while you’re practicing culinary arts.
The food and feed industry too was not left behind. Mr. Glen Courtright- representing the Enviroflight Company in the USA made a presentation on the theme: “Bugs Save the World” Enviroflight started investigating on the use of edible insects in 2009 and currently runs five tall store system for black soldier fly larvae (BSFL). He noted that humans need proteins in their systems and the industry has to provide that. Dr. Marc Kenis, CABI, [Switzerland] representing PROteINSECT project funded by the European Commission in Ghana, noted great success in farming houseflies and Black Solder Fly (BSF) for feed. Mr. Ensor Owen represented Sanergy Company that deals with commercial Black Solder Fly (BSF) Opportunities in Kenya. He noted that Sanergy is rearing BSF intended for use as animal feed protein. The key market segments for animal protein are feed millers. Demand for protein used in animal feed is worth $290 million and is still growing at 6% annually (CAGR 06-13). He observed that BSF larvae is a high-quality protein source, directly comparable to Omena. But Omena rarely meet KEBS standards due to adulterations, including impurities like shells, sand etc. so BSFL is even better.
Representatives from AgriProtein Company – a nutrient recycler that produces sustainable animal feed ingredients, lipids and fertilizer in South Africa, also made their case in favour of insects’ value chains at the conference. A representative from Unilever also supported the relevance of edible insects to their nutrition agenda and committed to work closely the stakeholders in the edible insect’s value chain.
Mr. Erwin Beckers (The Netherland), representing the Flying Food Project – that has set up a cricket farms in Kenya and Uganda noted that the project covers along the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya and Uganda. He explained that the purpose of the project is to build business on edible insects. The business model combines the common consumption of insects with inclusive business i.e., include people with lower incomes as producers, sales people or consumers. He noted that there are about 300 small scale cricket farmers in each of the two countries. These farmers produce roughly 3000 kg of cricket per month – mostly exported to external market in the Netherlands, as the farmers benefit from increased incomes. This, he explained, is a systematic and standardized (all farmers do the same things in the same way and skills), production system. The smallest scale is 30 crates (for economic viability).
The conference ended by drafting and releasing recommendation to various stakeholders. The recommendation to the government was to recognize the potential of insects as feed and food for national strategies regarding food, feed, and nutrition security; create an enabling policy and legislative environment for the use of insects as food and feed with clear regulations governing the sector. The government should also take a leading role in the policy debate on the use of insects as food and feed. The Universities and other training institutions should also include edible insects as part of the curriculum.
Story contributed by: Alex Ndiritu, Carol Kipkoech, Joyce Muniu