OnIslam.net

East Africa Develops Taste for Insect Diet

By David Njagi
Freelance Journalist - Kenya
locust_616_600x450
Researchers said a mouthful of insects has more protein compared to beef, are low in fat and high in vitamin B. (Image credit: National Geographic).
Locust

Faced with the two way tragedy of persistent drought and plague infestation, a growing number of consumers from East and Horn of Africa are warming up to the inclusion of insect diet in the food chain to tame the hunger stretch.

The possibility of this new trend is likely to appeal to many poor homesteads in the region since a meal of termites and locust has traditionally been considered easy to source and nutritious, according to the East Africa Wildlife Society (EAWS).

“Termite colonies cause land degradation while loss of huge tracts of farm produce have for a long time been associated with locust infestation,” Iregi Mwencha of EAWS told OnIslam.net. “It would be plausible for governments to recognize consumption of insects as a national diet.”

Varying Opinions

In a September article published in euobserver.com, researchers said a mouthful of insects has more protein compared to beef, are low in fat and high in vitamin B, and rearing them causes much less damage to the environment than raising cows, sheep and pigs.

“Rising food prices, coupled with further increases in world population and the corresponding search for yet more farm land, means people are really looking for alternatives,” said Professor Arnold Van Huis, who estimates that there are about 1,800 edible insects in the world.

Marian Peters, a Dutch entrepreneur and an insect-as-food movement lobbyist quoted in the article, describes the consumption of beef as an environmental threat compared to insect rearing.

“Over 10 gallons are needed to produce around two pounds of beef while the atmosphere is warmed through methane emission,” said Peters. “Mealworms, by contrast, generate up to 100 times less greenhouse gases than pigs.”

For Mary Kanjiru, however, the onset of a termite swarm is an easy way to make money, especially in Kenya’s slums where rising food prices has left many poor homesteads sourcing for cheaper alternatives. The 38-year old single mother of three says she has been hawking termites at Gikomba market in Nairobi for three years, where the business has grown to generate for her a steady income stream.

“On a good month I can make as much as Ksh 20,000 (about US$ 200),” says Kanjiru, whom residents have nicknamed mama kumbi kumbi (mother termite). “This is an area that has not been explored but I am glad to have tapped into it.”

The team has received a grant of one million Euros from the Dutch government to finance the research.

While there could be hundreds of others like Kanjiru in the East and Horn of Africa, hoteliers remain cynical of the possibility of an insect diet in their service menu.

According to Paul Kioko, a food and beverage manager at the Grand Royal Hotel in Nairobi, investing in agriculture and irrigation is the best approach to address food insecurity in the hunger struck region.

The manager, whose hotel specializes in traditional Somali food, however, says it is up to individuals to choose what they consume since everyone has varying appetite and purchasing power.

Islamic rulings on insect diet vary. Other than locusts, which were mentioned in a Hadeeth (saying) by Prophet Muhammad as being permissible to eat, the consumption of insects has not been explicitly discussed in the Qur’an or Hadeeth literature, leaving it open for interpretation among Islamic scholars.

According to Dr. Wael Shihab, OnIslam.net’s Managing Shari’ah Editor, Islamic law generally decrees that Muslims should not consume what is harmful, unclean, or disgusting, which leaves the majority of Islamic scholars leaning towards the prohibition of insect consumption. Imam An-Nawawi, a 13th century scholar of the Shafi‘i school of Islamic interpretation, states that “the view of scholars concerning land insects... is that it is Haram (unlawful). This is also the view of Abu Hanifah, Ahmad and Dawud. However, Malik says it is Halal (lawful).”

Food Prices Rise

Insect_food_stall
The onset of a termite swarm is an easy way to make money, especially in Kenya’s slums where rising food prices has left many poor homesteads sourcing for cheaper alternatives. (Image credit: Thesociopolitic.com, Bangkok, Thailand)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that food price volatility featuring high prices is likely to continue and possibly increase, making poor farmers, consumers and countries more vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.

Released October 11 in Nairobi, the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011 (SOFI) report suggests that the trend will leave small, import dependent countries vulnerable, particularly in Africa, making the achievement on the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reducing the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by half a farfetched paradigm.

“We must reduce food waste in developed countries through education and policies, and reduce food losses in developing countries by boosting investment in the entire value chain, especially post-harvest processing,” wrote Jacques Diouf of FAO, Kanayo F. Nwanze of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Josette Sheeran of The World Food Programme (WFP).

“More sustainable management of our natural resources, forests and fisheries are critical for the food security of many of the poorest members of society."

According to FAO, the number of hungry population is on an upward spiral where 925 million people were reported hungry in 2010.

While this is the case, nutritionists are raising alarm over the increase in lifestyle diseases among the middle class in the region due to consumption of junk food.

The shift from traditional food that is low on fat, they say, has seen fast food served in airports, parks, restaurants, school canteens and university cafeterias, as well as on supermarket shelves as frozen goods, and even in hospital cafeterias.

“This is ironical given the number of people who are facing starvation while this small group is killing themselves with junk food,” reasons Nairobi based nutritionist Alice Ndong. “I believe an insect diet is good because it is cheap and nutritious.”

The possible switch to an insect diet is likely to gather pace if proposed research by the Van Huis team of researcher succeeds in extracting protein from insects.

The team has received a grant of one million Euros from the Dutch government to finance the research.

But, whether progress in the area is likely to translate to food security in the East and Horn of Africa is something that will be keenly watched.

References

Honor Mahony. It's time to eat insects for the good of the planet, say experts. EUobserver Website. September 14, 2011.

An-Nawawi, Al-Majmu`, 9/16

Related Links:
A Journey into an Ant Colony
Hadiths Of The Fly (Bacteriophages)
Prophetic Medicine: An Old Prescription for a New Era
The Miraculous Design in the Flight of Insects
Eating: An Act of Worship
David Njagi is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist whose work has been published in Africa and the United Kingdom. He is fluent in both English and Kiswahili languages. He can be reached at danjagi@gmail.com or +254 720 480 830.

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