Insects: Underutilized Resource in Sustainable Food Systems

Dr. Dorte Verner makes her remarks

Insects offer a multitude of benefits that render them indispensable in the pursuit of food sustainability, research findings show. Serving as a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, insects represent a viable solution to malnutrition and food insecurity, particularly in regions where traditional livestock farming is impractical.

This consensus emerged from the Insect for Green Economy Conference held at JKUAT on February 28-29, 2024, aimed at harnessing the potential of edible insects to bolster global food security.

According to Dr. Dorte Verner, the World Bank’s Chief Agricultural Economist for Africa, the conference is a response to emerging food and nutrition security challenges amid existential threats like climate change.

Dr. Verner emphasized the need for new food and feed production methods to enhance food security amidst climate change and dwindling natural resources. She delivered these remarks during the conference’s opening session, which drew 300 participants from academia, industry, and government to examine the role of insects as food and feed in Africa.

From left: Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi, Ms. Teresia Karanja, Mr. Arnold Kipchumba and Prof. Johnson Kinyua interact with insect displays during the conference

Highlighting the growing recognition of edible insects in food systems, Dr. Verner underscored their immense potential for environmental sustainability, circular economy development, and livelihood enhancement. She urged researchers in entomophagy to address food system challenges and promote circular economy principles to ensure both nutrition security and job creation.

Echoing Dr. Verner’s sentiments, the First Lady, H.E. Rachel Ruto, represented by the Environment and Climate Change Lead in her office, Mr. Arnold Kipchumba, highlighted the significant promise insects hold in advancing food security, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity.

She noted their role in bioconversion and stressed the importance of harnessing their potential to address environmental challenges while creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

The Cabinet Secretary (CS) for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Mr. Mithika Linturi represented by Ms. Teresia Karanja, pledged to advocate for increased funding and collaboration with County Governments to support insect farming initiatives.

The CS urged stakeholders to embrace insect proteins as viable food and feed sources, citing Kenya’s breeding of approximately 17 edible insect species as innovative solutions to food security and nutritional challenges.

Participants keenly follow proceedings during the conference

Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi, highlighted the responsibility of researchers to harness the potential of insects for food and feed production. She urged stakeholders in the area to create opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-level enterprises, particularly among the youth, to foster economic empowerment and resilience within communities.

Singling out Prof. Johnson Kinyua and Dr. John Kinyuru for their pioneering work in edible insects through the Flygene and Healthynsect projects, Prof. Ngumi reaffirmed JKUAT’s commitment to research and innovation for societal benefit.

“JKUAT’s pioneering research on edible insects exemplifies our dedication to addressing pressing global challenges such as food security and nutrition using unique approaches,” said Prof. Ngumi.

According to the Principal Investigator, Healthynsect project, Dr. John Kinyuru, insects have long played critical roles in ecosystems, diets, and human culture, with over 500 species contributing significantly to food and nutrition security across the continent. He however says it is only recently that insects have been considered as a novel ‘livestock’ in food systems.

“Research and innovation have surged, fostering a thriving public-private sector. Insects, particularly species relevant to farming, efficiently transform organic residual streams into high-value products. Therefore, insects hold significant potential for sustainability, circular bio-economy and livelihood improvement,” attests Dr. Kinyuru.

The conference received support from various institutions including the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), The World Bank, Norad, and Sida.

Insects: Underutilized Resource in Sustainable Food Systems

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