In an interview with SciDev.Net, Esther Ngumbi, assistant professor of entomology at University of Illinois, United States, explained how insects can be a sustainable source of food and nutrition for urban communities, on the frontlines of climate change.
You focus on eradicating hunger on the African continent and feel that insects can greatly boost food security. How exactly would this work?
Insects can be a sustainable food supply. Unlike food crops that are dependent on land, insects can be raised in limited spaces. Science has shown that insects are a rich source of protein and iron. Climate change has brought about several extremes including drought, which affects our ability to grow crops.
If we use insects for food, we would not need to depend on rains. We would be able to sustainably feed ourselves. Our oceans have also had problems with over-fishing. Against all these challenges we are facing, the insect emerges as a sustainable food source.
Do you have a favourite recipe for eating insects?
I have eaten many insects, but I would say my favourite is when they are fried and become crispy and crunchy, and of course they’re really delicious. I’ve eaten stir fried crickets that were combined with bell peppers and onions, and it was yum. I really enjoyed the mopane worm when I was in South Africa [with pap, a staple meal made from maize].
I have also enjoyed stir fried mealworms, they’re crunchy and interesting. So, I have many favourite insect recipes that I’ve tried and loved. I keep an open mind and continue to find new recipes.
You believe that better urban agriculture can help combat unhealthy eating habits. However, many people living in Sub-Saharan Africa’s cities don’t have a lot of space. Do you have a strategy in mind for such situations?
That’s the very essence of urban farming – using small spaces and making the most out of these small spaces. It could be a window sill, a balcony or that small space outside your door. I think our houses have several spaces that we can use to grow food.
Drought is something you witnessed growing up in Kwale, in Kenya’s coastal region. Why do parts of Sub-Saharan Africa continually experience drought and what can be done to mitigate its effects?
Several parts of the African continent face drought year in, year out, because our climate has changed. Most farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture. We need to increase the ability of farmers to capture rain water and store it. There is an urgent need for African governments and non-government agencies to find alternative water sources for the farmers, for example water wells and ensure that the water that is available can be used sustainably.
Also, we need to find drought-tolerant crops. The African continent needs to invest in plant science to develop crops that are tolerant to the extremities that come with the change in climate.
Do you think opportunities for women in entomology are improving in your home country Kenya and other parts of the continent?
In part. There has not been an improvement in opportunities. The pandemic has taken us many steps back. We must continue to do our best to ensure that any young student that wants to pursue a career in entomology is given the opportunity.
I am a product of mentors that took interest in me and shared words of wisdom. It is upon role models in entomology, such as myself, to use our networks to ensure that the young students have opportunities to grow.
This interview was culled from SciDev.net.