Catching the bug: are farmed insects about to take off in Africa?

The boarding of Uganda Airlines flight 446 from Entebbe to Dubai was momentarily disrupted at the end of last year when two of the passengers started hawking bush crickets in the aisles.

Their fellow travellers couldn’t believe their luck: nsenene are a prized delicacy in Uganda, but despite November usually being peak season for the insects, there had been hardly any around.

The video from the plane went viral; there were grumblings about security breaches, but Uganda Airlines seemed sympathetic and spotted an opportunity to turn the crisis into an opportunity. “We understand that [nsenene] was not in plenty this season, hence the excitement. We are considering adding nsenene to our menu for regional and international flights on request,” it said in a statement.

A man fills small bags from a sack of crickets on a plane
A video that went viral showing a man selling crickets on an airliner last November. Photograph: YouTube

Nsenene are just one of 2,100 known edible insect species, a quarter of which are consumed in Africa. Most are highly prized – often costing more than beef or chicken by weight – and most are harvested from the wild.

Catching them is often difficult, they are seasonal and can be unavailable when most needed, said Dorte Verner, lead agriculture economist at the World Bank’s food and agriculture global practice. They can also be over-harvested or contaminated with pesticides.

However, with rising food insecurity, safeguarding this nutritious source of protein has become critical. “In 2021, 21% of people in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence did not have access to nutritious food,” said Verner. “Also, food production per capita has been falling since 2014.”

Farming the insects is one solution. A recent report, published by Verner and World Bank colleagues, on the potential of hydroponics and insect farming in Africa, found 849 farms in 10 of the 13 countries they surveyed. While still in its infancy – most farms were set up in the last decade – the industry has clear…

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