Africa has a wealth of edible insects whose nutritional content, life cycles, harvesting, preparation, and socio-economic impacts have been researched and documented. Globally, over 1900 insect species are eaten by humans. 250 of these occur in Africa. For example, stinkbugs are harvested, prepared and eaten by some Venda people in the Vhembe District of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Stinkbugs are highly nutritious and tasty but need to be captured during the night when the insects are immobilized by the cold. 

Insects are a protein-rich mini-livestock and their cost-production ratios are higher than beef, pork or poultry. 

Extensive research has been undertaken on edible insects in Africa such as the mopane worm (Imbrasia belina), locusts, termites, the inflated stinkbug (Encosternum delegorguei) and the African metallic wood boring beetle (Sternocera orissa). Entomophagy or eating insects is not restricted to the rural poor but is a highly respected cultural practice which may turn out to be the protein food of the future due to ease and efficiency of production. 

Apart from cricket farming in Madagascar and black soldier fly farming in South Africa, there are few insect farms in Africa, even though entomophagy is prevalent on the continent. Rural areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West Provinces, where insect consumption is well known, have limited income generation opportunities. Insect harvesting provides a wild-sourced resource that is sold informally at pension pay-points, roadsides and taxi ranks particularly by women. In contrast, insect use in Japan has been modernised and numerous products such as tinned, bottled, sweet or savoury insects are available in supermarkets and are found on restaurant menus. There are even annual edible wasp festivals in central Japan that attract international and domestic tourists to see which farmer has nurtured the largest nest!

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This article was developed in partnership with The North West University and the National Research Foundation

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This work is based on the research supported by the National Research Foundation. The Grantholder acknowledges that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in any publication generated by the NRF supported research is that of the author(s), and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard.

Would you like to work with insects? Insect farming is a growing industry. Developed nations like Japan, the Netherlands and the United States of America are farming insects as mini-livestock because they are an efficient protein source to produce, have high nutrient value and can be used to improve future food security. 

South Africa has a rich history of using lots of different edible insects which are considered by many as a cultural delicacy. Advertising has influenced us to perceive insects as disease-carriers and crop destroyers, however, it is important to learn about the positive impact of insects on people’s health and the economy. Insects play a large role in food security and nutrition, pollination, soil enrichment, and the green economy. 

Bianca Mkhize has a Masters degree in Tourism and Hospitality. Through the North-West University Bianca is doing a Ph.D. on insect harvesting and opportunities in tourism. Her aim is to increase tourist experiences of insects in the North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa by showing how these insects are known and used traditionally. She hopes that her research can increase revenue in rural, poverty-stricken areas and motivate communities to conserve nature. 

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There are various career paths in the insect industry. Check them out below: 

Entomologists study insects. This is a fascinating field investigating the diversity, life cycles and behavior of insects. Insects produce unique substances such as chemical defense sprays, attractive pheromones (perfumes), dyes, honey, anti-microbial propolis, paper, and wax. 

Ecotourism guides link visitors to the environment and to local communities through real-life experiences like collecting insects for food. This type of tourism ensures that people from different places can interact with each other and local people can benefit from sharing their traditional knowledge. 

Environmental educators teach people (both children and adults) about sustainable use to ensure that the resource is not depleted. They would encourage farmers not to use harmful pesticides but rather bait pests from their crops. Homeowners can also make a difference by having the insect’s food plants in their garden. 

This article was developed in partnership with The North West University and the National Research Foundation

NWU acronym logo purple.jpg

NRF logo.jpg

Click on the logos to find out more

 

This work is based on the research supported by the National Research Foundation. The Grantholder acknowledges that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in any publication generated by the NRF supported research is that of the author(s), and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard.

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