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Is Cricket Unga the Missing Ingredient in your Uji Mix?
January 22, 2020
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Cricket flour might be the solution to animal protein deficiency among young children.
Children at a primary school in Uasin Gishu County are drinking protein-enriched uji, thanks to the efforts of a scientist who is testing the effect of cricket flour on nutritional status of school children, as well as their gut health and cognitive functions.
The children from Cheptigit Primary School in Uasin Gishu’s Ainabkoi constituency are consuming uji made from a combination of millet, maize, and cricket flour in a bid to measure the difference that millet flour would make to their uji.
One group is having a combination of millet and maize, the second is having millet, maize and milk, and the last one is having millet, maize, and cricket flour.
The experiment is the brainchild of young scientist Carolyne Kipkoech who is exploring the potential of insects to improve early childhood nutrition.
Kenya is one of the hungriest countries in the world, with millions living in a constant state of food deprivation. In particular, children suffer from lack of animal protein because of the relative scarcity and cost of meat. Protein deficiency limits normal growth and development of children, reducing muscle mass and weakening their immunity.
Even though insects are not considered food in typical Kenyan culture, but insects are a normal dietary food for 2 billion people on earth, according to FAO. Crickets are so good because they have twice the amount of protein in beef.
Crickets on the Farm
A number of Kenyan farmers have already taken up cricket farming, mainly for use as animal feed.
Growing crickets is more efficient than rearing cattle, pigs or chicken. Not only are they more efficient at feed conversion, but they also consume less space and water.
Edible insects like grasshoppers and crickets grow in a wide variety of environments. As farmlands become more and more fragmented, there is less space for farmers to raise cattle, sheep, or goats. This makes insect farming a more viable way of raising animal protein and minerals. Insect meal provides a better quality of protein than meat and fish.
Because crickets are richer in protein and fatty acids as well as micronutrients, they are an excellent option for children who are undernourished. Some of the nutrients in crickets include iron, copper, selenium, magnesium, zinc, fiber, chitin, and probiotics.
Kipkoech’s research is aimed at assessing the nutritional value of crickets with a view of developing products with an optimum amount of nutrients. The project also aims at measuring the effect of cricket products on the children’s nutrition, cognitive function, as well as healthy guts.
The only farm animals that compare with crickets in terms of efficiency in feed conversion are chicken.
Farmers can use crickets to recycle animal waste on the farm. Crickets can consume manure and convert it into animal feed.
Currently, most people who eat insects harvest them from the wild, which means that supply is subject to changes in their habitat and environmental pollution. Should insect consumption increase, prices will rise and more insects will be harvested from the wild, which will threaten sustainability.
This means that the best way to promote insect production and consumption is through sustainable farming.
Using insects as feed for pigs and poultry might lead to the spread of diseases between insects and humans.