Over the past three years, the focus has been placed on the potential of edible insect species to address the global challenge of food security and nutrition. To play her part in this course, Carolyn Koech, a JKUAT PhD student in Food Science and Technology, carried out her study on the efficacy of cricket based food on nutritional status and gut health of preschool children in Uasin Gishu County.
As the clock hits 10am, chants of Uji, Uji, Uji fill the air as pint sized pupils run towards the kitchen. This has been the situation from January as pupils of Cheptigit Nursery School in Uasin Gishu County run for their cup of porridge.
For the past six months, Koech provided over 120 nursery pupils with three kinds of porridge meals. One contained Millet and Maize, the other included Millet, Maize and Milk, while the final porridge meal contained Millet, Maize and Cricket.
“Cricket has been incorporated in cakes and biscuit and adding it to porridge seemed like a noble idea to tackle the issue of malnutrition in children,” said Koech.
At the beginning of her study, Koech said convincing parents to let their children take porridge that contained crickets was not a walk in the park. “Even after telling them that crickets have high protein content compared to soyabean and beef which are among the common conventional sources of proteins, some parents were adamant that they did not want their children to take the porridge,” attested Koech.
Koech, the GREEiNSECT PhD scholarship beneficiary, says the high protein content in crickets can be utilised to solve the Protein-Energy-Malnutrition (PEM), a condition that is evident in children suffering from Kwashiorkor and Marasmus. She believes that the food security challenge will only be surmounted by a shift in food consumption habits and edible insects could provide a solution.
Joseph Biwot, whose child had been part of the programme, said he has noted that his child’s well being has improved. “Before the beginning of the project my son appeared tired after school but since February his energy level has improved and has always looked forward to going to school.”
Dr. John Kinyuru, Koech’s supervisor, acknowledged that the next step was to train the local community on cricket farming for value addition saying that cricket rearing will be vital towards reduction in food insecurity not only in the region but the country as a whole.
“I know that entomophagy (eating insects) irks some people but it is a high time we realise that insects are highly nutritious, and also far more environmentally friendly to raise than conventional livestock,” said Dr. Kinyuru.
Ms. Florence Chepkosgei, the Cheptigit Nursery School head, admits that since the beginning of the study, most children have gained weight and their cognitive ability has improved.
While thanking the preschool parents for accepting the study, Cheptigit Primary School Head teacher, Mr. Patrick Amalemba, urged universities to invest in meaningful research so as to solve the country’s problems such as climate change, food security and nutrition.
GREEiNSECT, that offered Koech the PhD scholarship, is a collaborative research consortium of universities and private partners aiming to investigate how mass-production of selected insect species can be developed in Kenya as a nutritious food source. It contributes to research capacity building in Kenya by supporting PhD studies in the fields of insect production, food product development, and economics.