Edible Insects – An overlooked solution to malnutrition

AGRF 2020

The most important value chains critical to the alleviation of malnutrition including edible insects, are often the most underrated.

These were the remarks of Ms. Dorothy Murugu, a nutritionist and public health consultant during a session on Healthy Diets which sought to explore innovations, developments and prospects in nutrition while at the same time lay the foundation for knowledge and experience sharing.

According to Ms. Murugu, incorporating edible insects among other innovations that are emerging is the solution that Africa needs to fight the malnutrition scourge.

“Edible insects including crickets, black soldier flies, termites and grasshoppers contain high protein levels and are environmentally friendly”, said Ms. Dorothy Murugu.

“For instance, grasshoppers contain 70 percent of protein content per 100 grams which is three times more than what we acquire from eating fish”, Ms. Murugu added.

On this basis, Ms. Murugu has been at the forefront of mobilising smallholder farmers in both the arid and semi-arid areas to rear edible insects which require little amounts of water and are likewise vital in breaking down animal feeds.

Undeniably, according to Prof. David Nabarro, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London and 2018 World Food Prize Laureate, the quest for fighting malnutrition will also be solved encouraging a dialogue with key stakeholders and people all over the continent. Focusing on the need to be well nourished, ensure that food systems are compatible with climate change so as to absorb the floating carbon in the air, help improve the livelihoods of the millions of people and lastly put women at the center of the food systems as they form the greatest share of the population and most of them are farmers.

“Indeed, it has been a journey on the pursuit of improved malnutrition. Back in 2008, the high food price led to riots in more than 30 countries which was a wake-up call that brought together nutrition experts and other stakeholders to take the issue of malnutrition with the seriousness it deserved,” said Prof. Nabarro.

In the past, there have been countless debates on whether nutrition is a health issue or an agricultural issue whereas in fact nutrition is an issue that cuts across all disciplines.

Increased evidence has shown that the nutrition of a child is critical from conception to birth and is vital to how the individual is able to contribute to their community, emphasised Prof. Nabarro.

Conversely, it is shocking to note that the areas and district that suffer from the highest level of stunting are the districts with the most partners. Which clearly shows the need to revise actions and plans that ensure that the goal of ending malnutrition aligns with all partners.

“We have data in excess regarding malnutrition, but we need to formulate policies and come up with solutions based on this data”, said Dr. Jeanine Condo, Director General, Rwanda Biomedical Center.

“In Rwanda for instance we are being forced to give a double dose of insulin to an individual who is suffering from both diabetes and stunting; this need to come to an end. Coordination is key. Make all parties aligned to the goal and ensure that there is a high level of leadership accountability”, added Dr. Jeanine Condo.

Meanwhile, the issue of nutrition cannot be complete without highlighting the role of technology. To make a notable difference in eradicating malnutrition, we need to get the seed systems working and resolve the controversies surrounding gene editing. Additionally, we need to create awareness regarding ways to end malnutrition across the globe.

“Mobile phones are accessible to everyone, let us make use of them to reach everyone and enlighten them on the need to have a healthy diet”, said Dr. Namanga Ngongi, Board Chairman, African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP).

While it is fantastic that there have been improvements in driving the agenda of improved nutrition to be at front of minds, we are not there yet. With statistics showing that over 17.6 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from malnutrition, more need to be done.

According to Prof. Ruth Oniang’o, Founder and Director, Rural Outreach Africa, and 2017 Africa Food Prize Laureate, the topic of nutrition should be a plenary session at the next AGRF.

“We need to make sure that all the stakeholders take this matter with the seriousness it deserves so that we can combine our efforts to completely alleviate cases of malnutrition in the continent,” said Prof. Ruth Oniang’o.

“If we as Africans, the best brains in this continent cannot begin to address the malnutrition problems on the ground, then who will?” concluded Prof. Ruth Oniang’o.