A group of farmers in Western and Nyanza have turned to rearing crickets to tackle food scarcity.
The 561 farmers, who were trained by the Department of Food Security at Bondo University College are rearing the crickets to make local delicacies like muffins, biscuits and sausages and for export.
The university provides them with information on how to make the delicacies and where to sell them, at home and abroad.
Japheth Alula, a maize farmer from Bondo, says he now supplements maize farming with cricket rearing and this has improved his financial stability.
“Crickets are like chicken and they reproduce so fast. That means farmers get returns after a week,” says Mr Alula.
Monica Ayieko, the coordinator of food security at Bondo University College, says the idea of cricket rearing is not new since the insects have been a source of food in the region for many years.
Her department started rearing the insects in May as a way of ensuring food security.
“We did a thorough research on the crickets, their nutritional value and how they can benefit the surrounding community by helping fight poverty,” says Prof Ayieko.
She says the focus is on crickets because the insects are easy to trap, available all year round and are rich in zinc, iron, copper and protein.
So far, the faculty has made big steps that will change the lives of many by earning them a livelihood and providing food. It has put the farmers in groups of 50, and each group rears the crickets, dries them and exports them; or uses them to make muffins, biscuits, crackers and sausages.
The delicious foods are also rich in crude fibre, protein and fat.
To make the delicacies, the crickets are fried, crushed and the powder mixed with amaranth flour to add to its nutritional value. The flour is then used to make the dough for baking. The crickets can also be used to make cakes and sausages.
The farmers are now able to earn more money through the venture, which is a low cost undertaking.
“It is quite simple; a farmer needs about Sh1,000 to buy the necessities then trap the crickets because they are readily available, underutilised resources,” Prof Ayieko says.
With a basin or bucket, a net for covering the basin, vegetable and chicken mash, soil, cotton and two egg trays, a farmer is ready to trap crickets for rearing.
The crickets are reared in small white buckets that have a source of light to keep the insects lively. The bucket is covered at the top with a transparent mesh that lets in oxygen.
Prof Ayieko says that farmers start by catching about 30 crickets with which they start their cricket farm. Once the crickets have laid eggs, the farmer separate the crickets from the eggs then keeps the eggs moist by spraying water on them.
The farmer needs to wait for the eggs to hatch and once they have hatched, avoid disturbing the tiny baby crickets.
Cotton is inserted into the basin to give the crickets water.
They are also fed daily.
Eggs are continuously collected to start a new farm as the older crickets are preserved by boiling and sun drying. They can then be used in cooking.
“The entire process, which starts from trapping the crickets, takes only a week and that makes it a cost effective type of rearing,” says Prof Ayieko.
The process of collecting crickets, the proffesor says, is not hard because they are available at night and are always attracted to light.
“We use a source of light to attract them and they come crowding around the light as we trap them with nets and put them inside containers that have small holes to let in oxygen,” she says.
She says the faculty first started by keeping 15 crickets in May this year and now has about 300 crickets.
Crickets are omnivores and scavengers, feeding on organic material as well as decaying plant material, fungi and supple young plants.
They live under rocks and logs in meadows, pastures and along roadsides. Many are nocturnal.
When rearing the crickets, one is advised to keep them away from predators such as spiders, certain wasps, ground beetles, birds, small rodents and lizards.
Crickets are advantageous to the ecosystem because they breakdown plant material, renewing soil minerals. They are also an important source of food for other animals.
“The only negative effect they have is that they are known to injure seedlings and large numbers can be destructive; and the male songs can be quite loud too,” Prof Ayieko says.
At the recently held Kisumu ASK show, Bondo University stole the hearts of many when they offered free cricket biscuits and muffins to the public. The participants at the show wanted to know how to rear the crickets and make recipes for the delicacies.
“We are promoting these natural resources because they are free and readily available foods that our ancestors survived on”, Prof Ayieko says.
The university is also working on rearing termites to enhance food security in the country.
According to Prof Ayieko, termites and crickets are rich in zinc and iron and protein, so they should be used to realise the country’s goal of being food secure.