KAMPALA, UGANDA — Short-horned bush crickets, also known as grasshoppers, are rich in protein, fat and fiber.
And they just might be an answer to Uganda’s malnutrition challenges, says Dorothy Nakimbugwe, a senior lecturer in the Department of Food Technology and Human Nutrition at Makerere University.
“Grasshoppers are a delicacy, but they are seasonal,” she says. “Mass breeding of grasshoppers could be part of the solution to malnutrition problems and protein crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Launched in April and now well underway, the collaborative project of Makerere University and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology aims to breed grasshoppers year-round. The bugs are reared in a university lab, where it takes about two months for each grasshopper to grow from an egg into an edible insect. When ready, the grasshoppers will be made available to a variety of partners to distribute and sell year-round.
“The first aim of the project is to improve food and nutritional security,” Nakimbugwe says.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
In Uganda, grasshoppers are in season from November to December and again from April to June, because of natural breeding cycles. When the insects are in season, Ugandans often abandon their everyday jobs and head to the fields to collect grasshoppers. Men, women and children sell sacks of grasshoppers to vendors and distributors.
At least 10.9 million people in Uganda are facing acute food insecurity, according to the January 2017 National Food Security Assessment Report. The problem is particularly acute among children – 33 percent of Ugandan children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth.
Grasshoppers could be a viable solution. The bugs’ nutritional value is similar to that of meat and produce, but they are significantly cheaper to produce. A 3.5-ounce serving of grasshoppers can have as many as 28 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat, a nutritional value comparable to the same portion of chicken breast.
“Undernourished children who cannot afford other protein sources will be beneficiaries,” Nakimbugwe says.
In Kampala, Uganda’s capital, grasshopper lovers say they can’t wait to have their favorite snack available year-round.
Sylvia Nakiwala, 36, says her three children love to eat grasshoppers fried golden brown.
“Grasshoppers are tastier than all the other types of meat,” she says. “It’s more delicious than chicken. It’s good for our health, too. I can’t imagine being able to buy and eat grasshoppers whenever I feel like. I wish the breeding of grasshoppers takes off very fast.”
Standardizing the process for rearing and cooking the insects is going to be an important part of taking the project to scale, says Hakim Mufumbiro, acting head of the food and agriculture standards division of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.
The division is working with Nakimbugwe and the lab to develop standards for breeding the edible insects safely.
“We are working with them to ensure they use standard materials in breeding,” he says. “Then, when they finally harvest, [we’re determining the best way to] fry them and present them on shelves in supermarkets.”
In addition to packaging a fried option, the division is working on dried options, too.
“We are going to develop standards for dried insects that will be used to make several other products,” Mufumbiro says.
But some remain skeptical about the degree to which grasshoppers can solve malnutrition here.
Susan Muduwa, a nutritionist, says that while grasshoppers do have nutritional value, the price and distribution strategy of the lab-bred insects will determine the project’s success.
“After the breeding, will they be affordable to the ordinary Ugandan?” she asks.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.