June 10, 2016
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Dust and grasshoppers cloud the sky at a market in Katwe, a suburb of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.
Some traders jump up and down, trying to catch the insects fleeing from the sacks in which they were brought.
“These are not charged because they belong to no one,” Jowelina Namugerwa, an 11-year-old girl, says happily as she jumps to catch grasshoppers.
Some traders dry the insects under the sun and store them for supply in different forms when the season is over. Some crush the grasshoppers into powder that is added to pizza, bread, and pancakes or used as a spice.
Wholesalers buy the grasshoppers from collectors and sell them to retailers in Kampala. Retail traders then transport them to different parts of the country. Some businesspeople abandon their normal activities to cash in on the seasonal delicacy, whether through selling shipments of the bugs or frying them to hawk them in schools, offices and homes.
The market in Katwe is a receiving center for grasshoppers from the Central and Western regions of the country. A crowd of buyers jostles for goods from Gabriel Mpalanyi, a wholesaler. Mpalanyi shoves sacks of restless grasshoppers to the buyers and receives wads of cash in exchange.
This season, grasshoppers, known locally in the Luganda language as “nsenene,” are scarce and the demand is high, he says. Half-full sacks of grasshoppers are selling for what would otherwise be the price of a full sack. Still, the buyers snatch them up without complaint.
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda
For most of the year, Mpalanyi is a grocery store owner in Hoima District in western Uganda. But when grasshoppers are in season, he closes the store and sells the insects in Kampala.
“This business pays me 10 times more than what I collect in my shop ordinarily,” he says.
Grasshopper season is boom time for business-savvy traders in Uganda. The insects are a valuable source of income. Women and children once trapped and collected them informally, but that industry is now commercialized, according to a study published in 2008 by the African Journal of Food Agriculture, Nutrition and Development.
The insects swarm Masaka, Hoima and Kabale, among other districts in central and western Uganda, between April and June and November to December.
“They take a short time on fire, and when they turn brown they are ready for eating,” says Musa Mugerwa, the executive director of Basenene Dealership & Development Association, an organization for grasshopper traders.
The grasshopper traders association plans to register with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards so it can be accredited to supply grasshoppers in hotels and supermarkets, Mugerwa says.
But for many Ugandans, the season’s profits come more simply.
Hassan Ssozi, a shoe mender in Kampala, says he never lets the opportunities the grasshopper season brings bypass him. He closes his normal business to hawk grasshoppers around the city.
“In a day, I can make sales worth 100,000 shillings [about $30], which can never happen at my ordinary job,” Ssozi says. “This is the season most of us look forward to. We can at least make a difference.”
Aisha Nakazibwe, a single mother, says the grasshopper trade enabled her to buy land in her village, something she would never have achieved if she stuck to her usual business of vending mobile phone credits in Kampala streets.
“I’m going to use the profits of this season to pay fees for my children, and the rest I will save till I make more next season to put up a house for my mother in the village,” Nakazibwe says.
She fries the insects and hawks them in Kampala streets. A tablespoonful of grasshoppers goes for 1,000 shillings (about 30 cents).
“I make profits because people love the nsenene too much,” she says. “The aroma is addictive to passersby. They automatically have to buy when they smell them.”
Moses Mbedda hawks his stock in offices.
“In high-profile offices, people buy the nsenene in big quantities,” Mbedda says. “Sometimes they buy at once nsenene worth 30,000 shillings [about $9]. I buy two sacks every day and by the end of the day, they are finished. “
Jane Kyakuwa, the head teacher of Kisaasi Primary School, says she buys grasshoppers for her teachers. At break time, they converge at the staff room to share the snack.
“Such little things mean a lot to us,” she says.
Edna Namara, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.