By Mary Hearty

Insect oils have been found to be more nutritious compared to the plant oils according to research conducted by researchers from the icipe.

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) did a comparison between oils of two grasshopper species and olives and sesame.

The two categories are commonly consumed in Africa, that is, the desert locust and the African edible bush-cricket, also known as ‘nsenene’ and oils obtained from olives and sesame vegetables.

This study supports a prior discovery by icipe that consumption of the desert locust could be good for people’s hearts.

 “We found that in comparison to the plant oils, insect oils are richer in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin E,” Dr Xavier Cheseto, Scientist icipe said.

Dr Cheseto explained that the insect contains a rich composition of compounds which have cholesterol-lowering properties, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

“In general, the fatty acids values in insect oils compare those favorably with those known to be necessary for important physiological functions in people, including defense against pathogens, preventing heart diseases, anticancer and anti-inflammatory agents,” Dr. Cheseto added.

The finding would provide a platform for African entrepreneurs to reach 130.30 billion dollars in the global cooking oil market by 2024, through mass rearing of the desert locust and ‘nsenene’ for oil production.

Globally, there is an upsurge in demand of insects because they are considered to be more nutritious and affordable, as well as alternative protein components for animal feed.

The number of potential products from insects also keeps growing. For instance, insect oils could also be used as biodiesel. The chitin forming part of the insect is also a good source of pest control and plant protection materials.

Further to this, insects are also sources of livelihoods and the socio-economic benefits of insect-based enterprises are already evident.

Currently, a number of smallholder farmers in Kenya are producing between 10 to 50 kilograms of black soldier fliers per week for their own livestock needs.

Medium-scale producers generate between 0.4 to 3 tonnes of black soldier fly larvae per week for sale. Based on the current price of 0.85 US dollars per 1 kilograms of dried black soldier fly in the market, 36,500 tonnes would be worth 31.03 million US dollars.

According to icipe’s studies, replacing the conventional feed sources such as fishmeal, maize, and soya bean meal by 5 to 50 percent with black soldier fly larval meal in the commercial poultry sector, can generate additional income of 16 to 159 million dollars, amounting to 0.02 to 0.024 of Kenya’s total gross domestic product (GDP) per years.

This revenue could aid in reducing the number of poor people by 0.07 to 0.74 million per year and create employment for up to 252, 000 people. Additionally, it would lead to recycling of 2 to 18 million tonnes of bio waste.

Moreover, this would free up enough fish and maize to feed 0.47 to 4.8 million people at the current per capita consumption rates in Kenya.

Foreign currency savings would also increase by 1 to 10 million US dollars per year by reducing the importation of feed and inorganic fertilizer.

“Our experience shows that insect-based enterprises can be undertaken with minimal inputs and is, therefore, ideal for women, young farmers and low-income households who are often constrained by limited access to agricultural resources,” Dr. Tanga stated.

Historically, communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America have consumed insects, with about 2000 known edible species, meaning these regions provide the basis to lead the development of insect-based enterprises.

icipe believes that such a goal will be achieved through a multi-faceted approach involving harnessing and advancing ethno-knowledge, while boosting it with science-led insights, leading to the development of innovative, high-quality products; supported by inclusive and effective value chains,” Dr. Kelemu noted.

In Africa, around 500 insect species including caterpillars, termites, grasshoppers, crickets and palm weevils are eaten.

The research Center has comprehensively documented the diversity of edible insects in Africa. Since most edible insects are harvested from the wild, icipe has produced details of their host plants, natural regulatory factors and ways to mitigate them.

Besides, the Centre has enhanced traditional insect harvesting to enable safer, sustainable and energy saving options as well as preparing measures to enable their mass rearing.

Also, icipe have contributed to the development of Dry Insect Product for Compounding Animal Feed Standards, which was endorsed and launched by the governments of Kenya and Uganda in 2017.

This foundation, in addition to simple extraction methods developed by icipe, will enable integration of insect oils which is yet to be an innovative product.