Orphans in Congo fed larvae in bid to beat malnutrition

It is typically cooked with onions, peppers and tomatoes, and have a cheese-like taste.
Last Updated : 25 June 2024, 08:22 IST

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Kinshasa: At an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, more than 60 children stared at their plate of palm weevil larvae fried up in spices, sharing nervous smiles, before curiously digging into the thick white worms.

The orphans are being fed the protein-rich larvae, known locally as mpose, as part of an initiative from Kinshasa-based non-profit organisation Farms for Orphans, which is seeking to address malnutrition in the west African nation.

Around one quarter of the country's 99 million population faces a food crisis and one half of all orphans are suffering from malnutrition, according to the World Food Programme.

Edible insects, including larvae, are increasingly being studied for their potential as a sustainable alternative form of protein to meat, either for human consumption as in Congo, or for animal feed in Benin. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, insects can be a rich source of fat, protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals.

"It is scientifically proven that meat does not have a higher protein concentration than insects, and it's not easy to get meat, so we wanted to make it simpler," said Francoise Lukadi, an agricultural engineer who runs Farm for Orphans.

She said the nutrient deficiency was particularly acute in children under five.

The larvae are typically cooked with onions, peppers and tomatoes, and have a cheese-like taste.

"It is important for children to eat mpose because of the proteins, because some children are abandoned in a state of malnutrition," said Nelly Mimpi, nutritionist and food health supervisor at the orphanage.

Farms for Orphans received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its initial research and launch, but Lukadi now hopes to produce enough larvae to sell commercially to subsidise the donations to orphanages.

The organisation currently supplies four restaurants in Kinshasa, where palm worms are becoming increasingly popular.

Her team produces up to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of palm larvae per month – and provides meals to several hundred children per quarter – but she wants to boost production to satisfy growing commercial demand.

Although her team is studying how to grow the larvae and harvest the larvae sustainably in laboratories at the University of Kinshasa and the National Institute of Biomedical Research, some critics say it would be difficult to ramp up production to a commercial scale due to a lack of adequate resources.

According to several peer-reviewed studies, commercial-scale insect farming could also pose food safety risks, as some insect farming requires feed crops that could otherwise go directly toward human consumption.

Farmers in Benin are also experimenting with the potential for insect protein.

Jules Mahinou, a 25-year-old at the head of a group of young poultry farmers called the Elevart Group, breeds black soldier flies in Cotonou, Benin, to produce fly larvae as a source of protein-rich animal feed.

"Right now, we're operating on a shoestring. Everything is done manually," Mahinou said, adding that he hopes they'll be able to mechanise and produce substitutes for fish and soybean meal.

Published 25 June 2024, 08:22 IST

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