Aspire Food Group operates Ghana’s first commercial insect farm. It wants to bring insects from the culinary margins to the mainstream to address food shortages, as well as to boost people’s iron intake. It was founded by students from McGill University in 2013, and launched the Ghana project last year.
In Kumasi, 40 year old Dominic Kyei Manu,a former cassava and sheep farmer rears palm weevil larvae which would be a less tedious way of making a living and even a cheaper source of food protein to his family and his pockets. Kyei Manu is one of four people farming palm weevil larvae in Donyina village under a scheme run by Aspire Food Group.
“I know that when I do this I can create money from it but it is very different from my normal farming,” he says. “I can sell it in this community and even in Kumasi – many people will like it.”
“The potential is really great. If we can revive the knowledge base to get people to appreciate the fact that they are edible and nutritional, I think it [eating insects] will come back and be accepted,” says Kwame Afreh-Nuamah, a professor in entomophagy at the University of Ghana, who was skeptic the new middle class in Ghana perceive insect eating as a sign of poverty and not for nutritional values.
Aspire opened a breeding facility in Ghana in 2014, and now works with about 500 smallholder farmers, providing free equipment and training to breed the larvae. The aim is to provide a new source of income, but also to diversify local diets. Known locally as akokono, palm weevil larvae are harvested from felled palm trees, which farmers tap for their sap to make palm wine or the popular home-brewed akpeteshie.
Aspire co-founder Shobhita Soor says the aim is to promote insects that are already popular – around the world some 2 billion people eat insects and could be a staple diet as global population continues to grow while arable lands diminishes. People already consume palm weevils (a great source of protein and iron of which lack causes anaemia) in other African countries, including Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, and across much of Latin America and south-east Asia.
Almost 20% of maternal deaths in Ghana are caused by iron-deficiency anaemia, while 76% of children aged under two are anaemic and more than four in 10 women aged 15 to 49 suffer from low blood iron levels, according to the 2014 Ghana Demographic Health Survey. Aspire says edible insects can provide 96% of the recommended daily allowance of iron compared with only 21% found in every 100g of meat. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects contain six times more calcium than meat, too.
In Fumuasa, a small town 10km south of Kumasi, Jacob Anankware, the Director of Operations in Ghana and his team are monitoring about 50,000 weevils in buckets filling an airy warehouse. Eventually, Aspire hopes the project will become self-sustaining, with farmers able to work alone. But there are obstacles as use of pesticides on plantations kills off weevils and felled palm trees which the weevil larvae are fed with are bought off by alcohol manufacturers.
“The opportunities for product development are limitless. We are thinking about a canned larvae akin to canned fish. The shelf-life then becomes stable so you can really distribute it much further in the country,” Soor says, “We definitely think it is the food of the future. I think the economics of food and the global constraints on the environment speak to that.”
Originally appeared as Bugs on the menu in Ghana as palm weevil protein hits the pan by Chris Matthews