Researchers from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) have provided evidence on the nutritional superiority of insects oils. These findings, which were published recently in Foods journal (paper link: https://bit.ly/2Ym8Z3V), strengthen the case for the incorporation of insects and their additives into food and animal feed.
The icipe study compared oils from two grasshopper species that are commonly consumed in Africa: the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), and the African edible bush-cricket (Ruspolia differens) also known as ‘nsenene’, and those obtained from olive and sesame.
“We found that in comparison to the plant oils, insect oils are richer in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin E,” says Dr Xavier Cheseto, Scientist, icipe
. “In general, the fatty acids values in insect oils compare favourably with those known to be necessary for important physiological functions in people, including defense against pathogens, preventing heart diseases, anticancer and anti-inflammatory agents.”
This study aligns with an earlier discovery by icipe that consumption of the desert locust could be good for people’s hearts. The research showed that the insect contains a rich composition of compounds known as phytosterols which have cholesterol-lowering properties, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
The current results make the desert locust and ‘nsenene’ ideal candidates for mass rearing for oil production, and provide an avenue for enterpreneurs in Africa to tap into the lucrative and booming global cooking oil market, expected to reach USD 130.30 billion by 2024.
Rising importance of insects
Over the past decade, the narrative and reality surrounding insects have shifted dramatically. Far from the predominant image of crawly nuisances that ruin crops and cause diseases, insects are now increasingly becoming valued as green, more affordable, and nutritious sources of food, as well as alternative protein components for animal feed and sources of livelihoods. Further, insects are catching global attention for their potential in the transition to greener environment and agriculture, for example, in the recycling of wastes and production of organic fertilizers. Also, demand for insect oils is rising in the booming cooking and cosmetic oil industries. Against this background, icipe is leading the way: combining ethno- and science-led knowledge to translate the latent benefits of insects for Africa, and indeed the world.
Globally, factors including population growth, urbanisation, climate change, diminishing land, water resources, and other agricultural inputs, overnutrition and undernutrition; as well as persistent poverty, have created uncertainties and pressures on food and economic systems. Moreover, the use of plants, for example, as sources of oils and animal feed protein, competes with food needs. Additionally, the fast-growing fish, poultry, and piggery sectors are constrained by shortage and the exorbitant cost of protein additives, conventionally obtained from fishmeal and soybean.
“The reality is this: if we want to meet global food requirements while protecting our natural resources, maintaining our biodiversity and improving the health of ecosystems, then we must seek and embrace new, innovative and sustainable ways,” states Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director General & Chief Executive Officer, icipe.
And insects stand out as an answer to this imperative. This is because insects are ubiquitous: they reproduce quickly, have high growth and feed conversion rates, better ecological footprint, signiﬁcantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water and land requirements. Insects are also valuable sources of proteins, minerals and vitamins that are essential for human and livestock development.
Even as the world catches on, it is worth noting that communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have historically consumed insects, with about 2000 known edible species. In Africa alone, around 500 insect species, primarily caterpillars, termites, grasshoppers and crickets and palm weevils, are eaten. This scenario provides the basis for such regions to lead the development of insect-based enterprises.
“icipe believes that such a goal will be achieved through a multi-faceted approach involving harnessing and advancing ethno-knowledge, while boosting it with science-led insights, leading to the development of innovative, high-quality products; supported by inclusive and effective value chains,” notes Dr Kelemu.
As critical first steps, the Centre has comprehensively documented the diversity of edible insects in Africa. Further, as most edible insects are harvested from the wild, icipe has produced details of their host plants, and natural regulatory factors and ways to mitigate them. Moreover, the Centre has improved traditional insect harvesting to enable safer, sustainable, and energy-saving options, while also preparing protocols to enable their mass rearing.
Importantly, icipe and partners have over the past several years laid the basis for insect-based enterprises in Africa, with a variety of small-, medium- and large-scale producers engaged in food and feed production. Moreover, icipe contributed to the development of Dry Insect Product for Compounding Animal Feed Standards, approved and launched by the governments of Kenya and Uganda in 2017, providing a legislation basis. This foundation, in addition to simple extraction methods developed by icipe, will facilitate integration of insect oils as yet another novel, innovative product.
icipe goal has been to provide scientific evidence on the nutritional and socioeconomic value of insects. So far, the Centre has completed nutritional profiles of a variety of insect species, their protein, vitamins, fibre, minerals and fats, and edible and non-edible oil contents.
Opportunities and socioeconomic benefits
The socio-economic benefits of insect-based enterprises are already evident. For example, icipe’s studies have demonstrated that replacing the conventional feed sources (fishmeal, maize, and soya bean meal) by 5 – 50% with black soldier fly larval meal in the commercial poultry sector can generate additional income of USD 16 – 159 million, amounting to 0.02-0.024 of Kenya’s total gross domestic product (GDP) per years. This revenue could contribute to reducing the number of poor people (that is, uplifted above the poverty line) by 0.07 – 0.74 million per year; create employment for 25,000 –252,000 people; and lead to the recycling of 2 – 18 million tonnes of biowaste. Such a shift would free up enough fish and maize to feed 0.47 – 4.8 million people at the current per capita consumption rates in Kenya. Foreign currency savings would also increase by USD 1 – 10 million per year by reducing the importation of feed and inorganic fertilizer.
Currently, a number of smallholder farmers in Kenya are producing between 10 – 50 kilogrammes of black soldier fliers per week for their own livestock needs. Medium-scale producers generate between 0.4 – 3 tonnes of black soldier fly larvae per week for sale. Based on the current price of USD 0.85 per 1 kilogramme of dried black soldier fly in the market, 36,500 tonnes would be worth USD 31.03 million.
“Our experience shows that insect-based enterprises can be undertaken with minimal inputs and is, therefore, ideal for women young farmers and low-income households who are often constrained by limited access to agricultural resources,” stated Dr Tanga.
And even more exciting is the fact that the list of potential products from insects keeps growing. For example, insect oils could also be used as biodiesel, while chitin (the scaffolding material around insects) is a good source of pest control and plant protection materials.
Notes for Editors
Cheseto X., B.S. Baleba S. B.S.; Tanga C. M.; Kelemu S. and Torto B. (2020) Chemistry and sensory characterization of a bakery product prepared with oils from African edible insects. Foods, 9(6), 800; https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9060800
Corresponding author: Baldwyn Torto; firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding: This research was conducted with financial support from Bioinnovate Africa Programme (INSBIZ - Contribution ID No. 51050076). icipe gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the following core donors: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida); UK Aid, from the government of the United Kingdom; the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Kenya; and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of these donors.
Abro, Z., Kassie, M., Tanga C. M., Beesigamukama, D., and Diiro, G. (2020) Socio-economic and environmental implications of replacing conventional poultry feed with insect-based feed in Kenya. Journal of Cleaner Production, 265, 121871.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.121871.
Cheseto X, Kuate SP, Tchouassi DP, Ndung’u M, Teal PEA, Torto B. (2015) Potential of the Desert Locust Schistocerca gregaria (Orthoptera: Acrididae) as an Unconventional Source of Dietary and Therapeutic Sterols. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127171
The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (www.icipe.org): Our mission is to help alleviate poverty, ensure food security, and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics, by developing and disseminating management tools and strategies for harmful and useful arthropods, while preserving the natural resource base through research and capacity building.