Africans have been eating insects for hundreds of years. Contrary to popular Western belief, insect-eating is not a barbaric or primitive behavior. In fact, insects are actually a healthier alternative to red meat, and can contain up to three times more protein than beef and chicken.
There are over 1,500 varieties of edible insects across Africa. Given the continent’s tropical climate, it’s no surprise that insects abundantly thrive here. As the price of beef, chicken and fish continue to rise across the world, a huge opportunity has emerged for insects to meet the animal protein needs of mankind and livestock, now and in the future.
In this article, I’ll share with you exactly how large the insect consumption market in Africa really is. I’ll reveal the reasons why the demand for insect protein is growing in Africa and across the world. I’ll also be sharing the top celebrity list of the most popular and widely-eaten insects across Africa.
This is one of the most detailed articles on the little known potentials of insect consumption and farming in Africa. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading it, just as I had fun writing it.
Let’s dive in!
How big is the insect consumption market in Africa?
To set the tone for this article, I think it’s a great idea to introduce you to the huge, but little known potential of insect eating in Africa. The short 3-minute video below makes for a surprising but interesting introduction. Enjoy!
Africans have been eating insects for hundreds of years. Contrary to what most people, especially in the West, may think, insect eating is not a barbaric or primitive delight. Edible insects are a major local delicacy in many parts of the continent, and are a nutritious and healthy source of proteins, vitamins and fat.
So, how large is the size of the insect consumption market in Africa? How much do people actually spend on edible insects?
In Southern Africa for example, the annual trade value of the Mopane worm, a popular edible insect in that region, is over $85 million. And that’s just one insect. If you add up the huge volumes of termites, crickets and grasshoppers that are consumed across Africa every year, the overall trade value is huge!
As most parts of Africa lie within the earth’s tropical zone, a wide range of insects thrive abundantly on our continent. Recent research shows that over 1,500 species of insects are eaten across Africa. And because insect supply is seasonal in nature, insects can fetch very high prices on the local markets.
As insect eating gains wider acceptance, especially in Europe, USA and Canada, there is a huge opportunity for Africa to exploit the growing global demand for healthy insect products. In the next section, I’ll explain exactly why the demand for edible insects is increasing across the world.
3 Reasons Why The Demand for Edible Insects is growing in Africa
Market demand for any product is always driven by the needs, preferences and choices of consumers. In the case of edible insects, there are a number of strong factors driving the growing demand for edible insect products on the continent and the world over. Here they are…
1. Animal protein is becoming more expensive, and scarce.
Most people want meat on their plates, but not everyone can afford it. At the moment, we consume over 280 million tonnes of meat worldwide. And this demand will likely double by 2050.
Meat production already takes up a lot of agricultural land and is responsible for a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The world clearly needs other alternative sources of animal protein, because meat production takes up a lot of land and water resources, and is clearly not sustainable in the long run.
On the other hand, it takes much less resources to convert insects into meat, and they generate much less greenhouse gases than ordinary livestock. The potential environmental benefits are huge.
In areas of the world where meat and fish are expensive, edible insects can provide an alternative source of animal protein and help to avoid protein deficiency conditions like kwashiorkor.
2. Growing demand for healthier alternatives
With the growing incidence of chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart conditions, more people (especially in developed countries) are looking for healthier animal protein alternatives. Most people who want to stay healthy now avoid ‘red’ or ‘fatty’ meats.
Edible insects contain between 30 to 70 percent protein (with many essential amino acids) and the ‘good’ fatty acids. In addition to its high nutritional protein value, most edible insects are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. This makes them a cheaper, more sustainable and viable alternative to all the meat and fish we currently consume.
Broad nutritional scale of major insects. (Photo credit: precisionnutrition.com)
3. Insects have a huge potential in animal feed production
In one article I wrote last year, I shared the amazing success story of AgriProtein, the company in South Africa that breeds billions of flies on an insect farm to produce maggots. The maggots are fed on organic waste material for a few weeks before they are harvested and converted into animal feed.
AgriProtein’s maggot-based animal feed is more than 15 percent cheaper than other alternatives and has been proven to be highly nutritious for livestock, especially chickens (poultry), fish and pigs. The company recently attracted more than $10 million in capital to build more fly farms in South Africa.
Agriprotein’s success with an insect-based animal feed proves the potential of using insect protein to replace soybean and fishmeal which have been traditional sources of protein in animal feed.
The international trade in animal feed has an estimated turnover of nearly $400 billion every year. Despite Africa’s huge demand for animal feed, it produces less than one percent of global animal feed output. The production of insect-based protein for the animal feed industry is a huge business opportunity for entrepreneurs in Africa.
The Top 4 Most Widely Eaten and Highly Demanded Insects in Africa!
Now that you understand the huge potential of the insect business in Africa, it’s time to take a look at the top four celebrity insects that are highly demanded for their taste and nutritional value across the continent.
Let’s meet them…
Grasshoppers, Locusts and Crickets
Photo credit: eattheweeds.com
This is arguably the most widely consumed group of insects, probably because they’re abundantly available and easy to catch. These juicy insects contain a high proportion of crude protein and healthy fatty acids.
Although grasshoppers, locusts and crickets may look alike, there are actually some very marked differences. Both grasshoppers and locusts are largely active during the day. However, unlike grasshoppers, locusts live and move in very large groups (known as ‘swarms’), and they’re very notorious for their ability to destroy vast areas of vegetation in a very short time.
Crickets, on the other hand, are actually more active at night, and make a very distinct sound (known as ‘chirping’). Their sounds are used by hunters to locate and catch them. And most times, they live in holes under the ground.
Grasshoppers, locusts and crickets have a neutral flavor and can be fried, cooked or roasted and served with a sauce or spice. However, scientists have observed in DR Congo that when these hoppers are eaten without removing the legs, intestinal constipation may occur, caused by the large spines on the tibia of these insects. So, beware!
The photo to the right is a meal of spiced and fried termites with ugali, a corn, millet or soghurm based porridge that is popular across East and Southern Africa.
Because termites are rich in protein and plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids, termites are enjoyed in most parts of Africa, either as a healthy snack or a side dish to a starchy meal.
Termites are particularly very rich in protein and can contain up to 65 percent protein. Like most other edible insects, termites are rich in minerals like iron and Vitamin A. This makes them a rich source of these nutrients in poor and deprived areas where other animal proteins like meat and fish may be very expensive.
The particular species of termites eaten in most parts of Africa are the ones that fly. They are usually harvested during the rainy season when they fly around. (photo credit: insectfood.wordpress.com)
Photo credit: nydailynews.com
In Southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, mopane worms are a special seasonal delight. They are commonly eaten dry and crunchy, like potato chips, or may be cooked in a sauce or stew.
Make no mistake, the mopane worm is a hot-selling product. Annual sales in mopane worms can reach up to $85 million. People love the worms because they’re very tasty and highly nutritious; the worms contain high levels of crude protein, amino acids, healthy fat, minerals and vitamins.
The mopane worm is actually the caterpillar of the emperor moth. The worm is named after the mopane tree, which leaves it feeds on after it hatches; usually around summer. The worms are harvested from the trees, squeezed out and dried before they are sold in local markets.
Palm weevil larva
Photo credit: budgettravel.com
Across West and Central Africa, the palm weevil larva is a huge favorite. These larva are hatched from eggs laid by adult palm weevils in the trunk of living palms. Although they’re usually associated with oil palms, these larva can also be found in coconut trees and other types of palms (like dates).
The African palm weevil larva contains up to 70 percent fat. Because they are fried in their own fat, they don’t need any extra oil. This makes these larva one of the most energy-dense macronutrient foods on the planet!
Did you know that palm weevil larva are also heavily eaten in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand? In fact, in these countries, palm weevil larva are farmed by specialized farmers who cultivate the larva and sell them to meet the huge demand. Amazing!
3 Insect Farming Initiatives That Have Taken off in Africa
If you think insect farming is a crazy idea, think again. I’m going to share with you three interesting initiatives that are targeted at exploiting the huge local and international demand for insect-based foods. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about any of them before.
Let’s meet them…
1. The McGill Entomophagy Project
Did you know that in September 2013, the Clinton Global Initiative awarded a $1 million prize to a team of student entrepreneurs from the McGill University in Montreal, Canada? The team’s objective is to fight hunger and nutrition deficiencies in developing regions of the world like Africa by improving diets with insect-based meals.
By working with researchers and local insect farmers in Thailand, this team has assessed red palm weevil larva farming practices for possible translation to West Africa where palm weevil larva are eaten, but not farmed.
2. Prof. Arnold van Huis (Insect Protein for Africa)
Prof. van Huis is a leading researcher in the field of using insects as a sustainable source of protein for Africa. He is on a drive to raise 1.5 million Euros in funding to carry out fundamental research of simple insect cultivation methods in Africa.
AgriProtein, the South African business I talked about earlier, has been developing its insect based protein feed, extruded oil, and fertilisers since 2009. Following five years of parallel academic and manufacturing research, AgriProtein has raised $11 million from strategic partners to commercialise and globalise its revolutionary concept.
The company broke ground on its first industrial scale factory ’F1’ in May 2014. The plant will come on line in 2015 and produce 7 tonnes of MagMeal™, 3 tonnes of MagOil™ and 20 tonnes of MagSoil™ per day. Locations for the second factory are currently under evaluation.
Any thoughts, comments or feedback?
The idea of a future where most of the food we’ll eat will contain insects is quite thought-provoking, isn’t it? Well, I’m already an insect eater myself and I’m always open to adventure and experimentation. However, I don’t think I’ll ever come around to eating insects like cockroaches or scorpions. I’ll need to psyche myself to eat those.
What do you think about the global move towards cheaper, richer, eco-friendly and resource-sensitive insect-based proteins?
Have you ever tried insects before?
You’re welcome to have your say in the Comments section below. I’ll be glad to interact!