The consumptions of insects, entomophagy, has seen its steady incline in popularity as the trend spreads and grows. Countries north, south, east and west have taken their picks from the 1900 edible varieties of insects (as of April 2012) and the choice gastropods.
From the delicacies of escargots from France to the tantalising taste of tarantulas in Cambodia; even our own local traditions including a variety of caterpillars, flying termites, ants, crickets and grasshoppers, have proved the possibilities endless as minds become more open.
Why Insects are valuable
Insects are highly nutritious and contain protein, fat and energy in proportions similar to grains, vegetables and seeds. They are rich in macro minerals like calcium, sodium and magnesium and micro minerals like zinc, manganese, iron and copper, all of which should be part of a healthy diet.
In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, these minerals come from fruits and vegetables, most of which are farmed seasonally. Edible insects could supply these minerals during seasons where there is less fruit and vegetable production.
They contain essential amino acids such as threonine, cysteine, valine, methionine and isoleucine. The recommended daily minimum intake of amino acids can be consumed by eating just 100 grams of the edible stink bug (Encosternum delegorguei), for example.
Earlier in 2019, parts of Eastern and Southern Africa were ravaged by Cyclone Idai. The cyclone destroyed crops and livestock, causing severe food shortages. We believe that in disaster-struck areas, edible insects can build resilience by being a food resource in recovery programmes and an alternative to traditional smallholder farming. There is an excellent example of that in the DRC, where orphanages have started insect farms to grow their own protein. The farms have helped decrease hunger and improve health among the orphans.
Flying Termites (Ishwa/Inhlwa)
Flying termites, or ishwa/inhlwa (flying alates), are Zimbabwe’s second most popular insect cuisine after the mopane worm. But the tasty and juicy ishwa are actually a healthier option, packing an extra protein punch. Found in the provinces of Mashonaland East and Central, Masvingo and Harare, the meaty little delicacies have been consumed by many tribes and cultures across the country dating back centuries, according to the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe. Fresh ones are available only during the insect’s annual mating flight, which occurs in the second month of the rainy season.
Often confused with the flying ant which is just edible, the flying termite is a protein filled, rainy season delicacy of Zimbabwe; second only to the caterpillar or mopane worm locally known as madora/amacimbi.
Said to have a nutty taste, this simple dish is pegged as a healthier, cheaper alternative to our more common meat. In spite of its small size, it is packed with great protein and necessary fat.
What makes the termites so tasty is the mixture of protein and fats, says chef Honest Danda, who has cooked termites throughout his 10-year career (including at one of Zimbabwe’s top hotels, Rainbow Towers). This is why ishwa/inhlwa are never cooked with oil. “Growing up in a rural area, we used to harvest ishwa from a termite mound. My mother taught me how to cook them,” Danda says. And that’s how he started preparing them: in an open frying pan over a fire.
Eaten both locally and across our borders, grasshoppers have made a crunch in our lives. You can sometimes buy grasshoppers in specific shops down town or if you like, catch them using a wool blanket on a field abundant with grasshoppers and some overripe fruit. Having this tasty treat fresh may mean an early morning and a bit of chasing but nevertheless worthwhile.
Mopane Worms (Madora/Macimbi)
Mopane worms, scientifically known as Gonimbrasia belina, are a delicacy in Zimbabwe. The worms are harvested during the rainy season, then cleaned and sun-dried for preservation. Commonly referred to as macimbi, the dish is now being served in urban restaurants, an affordable source of animal protein for diners. The mopane worm harvest often begins in December and continues through March. It is during this time that most restaurants’ macimbi sales are at their peak.
How edible insects may contribute to economic growth
The consumption of edible insects is increasingly becoming popular among many around the world. Insects still have that “eck” factor when one finds them on their plate, but estimates are that over two billion people around the world already consume them on a consistent basis . . . So much so that the edible insect industry was in 2019 projected to be worth US$1,2 billion over the next five years.
Crispy fried beetles are a delicacy in Thailand; caterpillars are a popular snack in Sub-Saharan Africa, and grasshoppers fried in garlic are a favourite among Mexicans. Lots of Zimbabweans already eat insects, but experts contend that these creepy crawlers can do more for the economy.
In August 2019, Zimbabwe hosted the first African Conference on Edible Insects aimed at consolidating innovations, research and industrial development on edible insects for transformation of livelihoods in Africa. The event was organised by The Agriculture for Food Security 2030 (AgriFoSe2030), an organisation that seeks to improve the state of food security using edible insects. Its programmes contribute to sustainable escalation of agriculture and increased market access for small-holder farmers.
The conference was graced by scientists from various countries, academics, students, investors, policy-makers, communities and all interested parties in edible insect research and development, consumption and industrial utilisation.
Speaking at the conference, Chinhoyi University of Technology’s (CUT) Crop Science and Post-harvest Technology patron Dr Robert Musundire, said the objective of the conference was to discuss on the opportunities arising from growing edible insects markets.
“In Zimbabwe the main commodity is the mopani worm, which makes around US$100 000 per year, which is a value chain that has developed; edible stink bug (harurwa) is an early developed market, which makes about US$300 per household, that is what they realise in terms of selling per year and we have smaller insects like the termites that play an important role in terms of income and food provision.”
Mopani worm is Zimbabwe’s main export commodity, which has been going to neighbouring countries like South Africa and Botswana.
Very few African governments have embraced the use of insects as food and feed, leading to a lack of and poor legislative frameworks to effectively support this emerging industry.
“Poor infrastructure, lack of investment and awareness about edible insects means that most African countries will lag behind as the rest of the world advances in utilisation of insects as a source of human food and animal proteins,” he added.
- Robert Musundire, , The Herald, Published: 3 December, 2019, Accessed: 11 February, 2021
- Tatira Zwinoira, , OZY - Live Curiously, Published: 22 February, 2018, Accessed: 11 February, 2021
- Fortune Moyo, , Global Press Journal, Published: 1 November, 2017, Accessed: 11 February, 2021
- Kumbirai Tarusarira, , The Sunday Mail, Published: 25 August, 2019, Accessed: 11 February, 2021