Why insect research?

Insects and other arthropods are the most diverse and abundant forms of life on earth. They are also a paradox within the sustainable growth equation especially in tropical regions such as Africa where, on the one hand, they contribute to developmental stagnation because of their ability to severely reduce the output of humans, animals and plants. On the other, because of their tremendous biodiversity, insects harbour great potential for development.

In Africa, insects pests are a key component among complexities of water scarcity, land degradation and poor soil health, which continue to hinder agricultural productivity and food security. In some instances, insects cause the loss of entire crops in the field, and in others, they destroy significant amounts of harvested food in storage. They also limit the potential of the continent’s emerging horticultural sector by reducing yield quality and quantity, and by necessitating the use of harmful pesticides, leading to the rejection of produce from Africa in lucrative export markets.

Some insects are also disease vectors and are responsible for the transmission of dilapidating human and livestock diseases, exacerbating Africa’s already disproportionate share of the global disease burden. Such diseases include malaria (transmitted by mosquitoes), human and animal trypanosomosis, commonly known as sleeping sickness and nagana respectively, which are transmitted by tsetse. Other vector-borne diseases are: dengue, kala-azar, Rift Valley fever and yellow fever.  

Many people in Africa, especially those living in fragile and marginalised areas rely on insect biodiversity, for instance beekeeping and silk rearing. However, factors related to population growth and poverty, the inability to harness natural resources sustainably, and indeed, the strategies that are used to control harmful insects, are bringing about changes that are adversely affecting ecosystems, and the benefits that people obtain from them. In addition, the impacts of climate change will most significantly be felt in Africa, possibly pushing communities further into poverty and placing more pressure on the environment.

Underlying all these issues is a weak and under-resourced infrastructure for scientific research, and the lack of adequate capacity to deal with the negative aspects of insects, and to harness their positive attributes.

What we do

Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, icipe was established in 1970, to address this very paradox of insects and accompanying challenges. The Centre’s mission is to use insect science for sustainable development, to ensure food security and improve the overall health of communities in Africa by addressing the interlinked problems of poverty, poor health, low agricultural productivity and environmental degradation.

Since its founding, icipe has remained committed to developing and disseminating environmentally safe, affordable, acceptable and accessible tools and strategies to control insect pests and disease vectors. icipe’s mandate further extends to the sustainable conservation and utilisation of Africa’s rich biodiversity.

icipe is the only international institution in Africa working primarily on arthropods. Therefore capacity building of individual researchers and institutions in Africa is an integral part of all the Centre’s research and development activities. icipe also aims to empower women, harness the youth and build capacity to use, transfer and teach the Centre’s technologies.

How we work

icipe prides itself as a centre of excellence, which means adhering to the highest globally accepted standards of scientific practice, while responding to Africa’s critical developmental. The Centre seeks to accomplish its goals through:

  • The 4H (ealth)s paradigm, a holistic and integrated approach that encompasses human, animal, plant and environmental health.
  • A Multiple discipline approaches, which bring together entomologists and acarologists, behavioural biologists, molecular biologists and biochemists, population and ecosystem ecologists, biomathematics and bioinformatics specialists, entomopathologists, biosystematics experts and social scientists and trainers.
  • Collaborations: icipe’s research is undertaken through close and effective partnerships with national, regional and international organisations. Through these partnerships and collaborations, icipe’s ultimate goal is to strengthen the Centre’s own capacity and that of its partners towards improving the livelihoods of millions of people in Africa towards enabling smallholder farmers, on whom most agricultural activity in Africa depends, access the appropriate technologies and strategies to address existing and emerging constraints. It is the home base for researchers and scientists from Europe, Africa and Latin America; it creates a globalised ‘research family’.