A Different Kind of Livestock

Caterpillars (seen here being sold by a street vendor in Uganda) are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Caterpillars (seen here being sold by a street vendor in Uganda) are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

I’ve had the opportunity to try some traditional—and tasty—local foods while I’ve been traveling in Africa, including amaranth, breadfruit, matooke (mashed banana), posho (maize flour), groundnut sauce, spider weed, sukuma wiki (a leafy green), and a whole lot of other vegetables and fruits with names that I can neither remember nor pronounce.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is found all over Africa and, in addition to being a food source, it is also considered a pest—grasshoppers. As I was walking through a market in Kampala, Uganda I noticed women “shelling” what I thought were beans, but upon closer inspection the baskets sitting between their legs were full of wriggling grasshoppers. As they sat, chatting with one another and the curious American, they were de-winging the insects so that they could be either sold “raw” or fried for customers.

Despite the yuck factor many of you reading this might have for eating insects, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, and other “bugs” can be a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, minerals,

and other nutrients. According to the results from a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization workshop in 2008, caterpillars are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron.

Collecting and selling insects can also be an important source of income, especially for women in Africa. And as climate change increases the prevalence of certain insects, they become an even more important source of food in the future.

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