Cricket farming in Kenya has become a valuable source of income for farmers in the Nyanza region. Crickets are black/brown insects that belong to the class Insecta, order Orthoptera, and Acheta. They are categorized into two groups; house cricket and field cricket.
The house cricket (Acheta domesticus) is widely reared in the Nyanza region of Kenya, where some organizations have trained several youth and women groups to empower them with this entrepreneurial activity.
The cricket farming in Kenya success story started three years ago, and many other farmers have welcomed the idea. This art of insect rearing for commercial purposes originated in the Netherlands but has now spread to different parts of the world, including Kenya.
Farmers in Kenya utilize buckets/crates where female adults lay fertilized eggs under wet cotton wool. After a month, the eggs hatch into nymphs that feed on vegetables, soy flour, and water.
It takes three months for crickets to mature into the adult stage. An adult cricket weighs about 0.5-1.5grammes. Crickets have a higher feed conversion ratio converting most of their feed into edible portions/protein than conventional protein sources such as bovine, fish, and pigs.
Harvesting is manual, where the mature crickets are emptied into boiling water for about 5 minutes (blanching).
They are then cooled in cold water before drying in a solar drier to below five percent moisture content. This reduces the growth of bacteria and molds, making them have an extended shelf-life and safe for human consumption.
Crickets can be used directly as food or ground into flour to fortify other foods. You can use cricket flour to make products such as biscuits, cakes, porridge, chapati, and mandazi. For example, cricket farmers in Bondo have been incorporating cricket flour to make different confectioneries. Their counterparts in Kisumu have used the same in cake baking.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Some cricket farmers were invited to showcase some of these products at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Nairobi last July during the Obama visit to Kenya.
Due to their high nutritional value, where a medium-size cake costs Sh500. Much research is going on in institutions such as Egerton University, JKUAT, and ICIPE to find out the actual nutritional and other potential benefits of these insects and their likelihood of being incorporated into many other foods and feeds.
However, preliminary results have shown that crickets have a high protein content of over 60g/100g dry weight. This is higher than soybean (by 49 percent dry weight basis) and beef (by 36 percent dry weight basis), which are among the familiar conventional sources of proteins.
People can utilize the high protein content to solve the Protein-Energy-Malnutrition (PEM), a condition that is evident in children suffering from kwashiorkor and marasmus. Such children appear wasted and stunted.
Therefore, entomophagy can contribute to a reduction in food insecurity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Besides protein, crickets are rich in fats, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have many health benefits, and minerals such as iron and zinc. These minerals are essential in children’s growth and development.
Climate change has resulted in unpredictable weather patterns. Farmers are no longer able to predict rainfall patterns, and as a result, the productivity of traditional crops such as maize millet, sorghum, and beans has gone down.
However, the rearing of crickets is independent of climate change. Farmers can rear them throughout the year, thus sustaining their profitability.
One of the contributors to climate change is the increased emission of greenhouse gases. Compared to crickets, cattle produce more than 300 times more greenhouse gases than crickets per kilogram of body mass gained.
The amount of water required for the growth of these insects is relatively low compared to other reared animals at home. Also, only a small size of the land is required to rear crickets. A house with an area of four by three square meters can accommodate 100 crates of crickets.
Each crate is being sold between Sh. 700 and Sh. 1500. Therefore a farmer with 100 crates can fetch between Sh. 70 000 and Sh. 150,000 within three months.
The cost of production is too low because they feed on cheap and readily available materials, and they are fed twice a day — morning and evening. This practice, therefore, presents an alternative farming method.
Despite their high investment returns and nutritional benefits, many communities have not embraced entomophagy and insect rearing. They view insect consumption with disgust and as a primitive practice.
In Kenya, for example, only the communities within the Western and Nyanza regions are known to consume insects such as termites (tsiswa) and crickets (onjiri).
Thus, there is a need to create more awareness of edible insects’ health and economic benefits, such as crickets.
With the devolved system of governance, more resources can be channeled into such farming projects to economically empower communities (especially the youth) and alleviate protein malnutrition.
The demand for these insects is increasing, but the supply is still low. There is thus the need to sensitize all stakeholders on sustainable production to meet the demands.