Is insect porridge the answer to malnutrition in Africa?

[NAIROBI] Low-nutrient African porridge could be fortified with amaranth and cricket to make it rich in micronutrients to tackle malnutrition in infants, a study suggests.

The study published this month (April 5) in the food The journal says that grains such as sorghum and finger millet used in making African porridge, a staple food for many communities, are high in carbohydrates but low in micronutrients.

Researchers from the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, headquartered in Kenya (here) said they wanted to develop a “nourishing product that is acceptable, attractive and accessible to a wide range of consumers”.

“These insects are rich in nutrients that can be used to improve the nutrition of Africans.”

Lydia Maruti Waswa, Egerton University

Researchers enriched finger millet with high-quality nutrients from an edible African cricket known as Scapsipedus icipe, which is high in protein and fat, and amaranth grain, an indigenous vegetable grown in many parts of Africa, to create what they say is flavor-enriched porridge flour, and compared its values nutritional values ​​with those of traditional porridge.

“The four porridge products developed in this study have higher energy density and nutritional value, as evidenced by the improved fat, protein, vitamin and mineral content in the different products, compared to the commercial porridge product. widely consumed,” the study said. .

“Our results also demonstrated the importance of incorporating cricket and amaranth flour into porridge products to produce sufficient nutritious food to meet the recommended daily intake of the most vulnerable segments of the population. they are treated properly.”

According to Global Nutrition Report 2021Malnutrition persists globally, with 149.2 million children under five years old being short for their age, and African children heavily affected.

Chrysantus Mbi Tanga, study co-author, principal investigator and head of the Insects for Food and Feed and Other Uses program at here, adds, “The nutrient quality of insects is comparable to or better than that of most plant and animal sources. Thus, it will significantly reduce over-reliance on existing food systems that are under great strain due to rapid global population growth.

According to the study, the cricket is also rich in essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins, while the leaves and seeds of amaranth are rich in vitamins C and A, iron, zinc and calcium digestible by the body. human body.

Tanga says entomophagy, the eating of insects, is considered a safe practice in more than 100 countries by some two billion people worldwide, but remains underused.

He adds that the use of insect-based products to increase the nutrient content of commercially compliant food products could contribute to income generation, job creation, improved livelihoods and food security of local communities in Africa where there are over 500 species of edible insects.

Lydia Maruti Waswa, a senior lecturer in the department of human nutrition at Egerton University in Kenya, says the consumption of insects such as crickets is increasingly embraced as demand for nutritious, affordable and culturally acceptable increases, especially in resource-poor settings, amid climate change and rapid population growth.

“These insects are rich in nutrients that can be used to improve the nutrition of Africans. We have to find other ways to make them palatable,” Waswa says. SciDev.Net.

She says use was previously limited by cultural beliefs, stigma and negative perceptions.

“However, with advances in production and value addition technologies, insect consumption could contribute significantly to diet quality and therefore reduce the burden of malnutrition, especially micronutrient deficiencies. among vulnerable population groups,” she adds.

Waswa urges African governments and research institutes to promote the breeding and processing of insects and raise awareness of the benefits of including them in African diets.

She says more research is needed to discover other nutritious insects to support production and consumption on the continent.

This piece was produced by the UK Sub-Saharan Africa office of SciDev.Net.