The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) said that the stink bug is a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants, and has the potential to play a vital role in improving food and nutritional security, as well as the incomes of rural African communities.
“Our research showed that the edible stink bug, which is known scientifically as Encosternum delegorguei Spinola, and in some parts of southern Africa as thongolifha, contains vital nutritional components,” ICIPE scientist Professor Baldwyn Torto said in a statement issued in Nairobi on Friday.
He said that the insect is a rich source of fatty acids, including seven that are considered essential for human nutrition and health and also contains some flavonoids, a nutrient group most famous for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits.
“The edible stink bug provides 12 amino acids, two of which are often lacking in the predominantly cereal-based diets consumed in many parts of Africa. The insect also contains high crude protein and fats, and although it is not a great source of minerals, it contains phosphorus in relatively high levels,” Torto added.
Torto revealed that the study has also discovered the need for improved care in the harvesting and storage of the edible stink bugs, to safeguard their nutritional value and prevent contamination by harmful compounds.
Edible stink bugs are usually collected from tree branches and are then killed using either warm water or heat, before being stored in woven wooden baskets or used grain bags, for later consumption or sale.
However, according to Torto, these traditional harvesting and storage practices of the insect can lead to fungal contamination.
“This is primarily because the wooden baskets and the polythene bags are also used to store cereal grain and legumes – products that are often associated with mycotoxins, a group of poisonous chemicals that are produced by certain moulds,” he noted.
According to Dr. Robert Musundire, the study’s lead author, scientists found traces of aflatoxin, one of the major groups of mycotoxins, in traditionally collected and stored samples of the edible stink bug but did not detect the compounds in samples of edible stink bugs stored in clean and non-contaminated bags, for instance zip-lock bags.
He recommend better handling and storage of the edible stink bug to ensure its safety as food by using alternative, affordable materials, such as plastic-lined gunny bags, which are easy to use and clean.
Musundire observed that when harvested and stored appropriately the edible stink bug has the potential to be an important source of nutrients and antioxidants in the diets of African rural communities, which are often dominated by cereals that may lack some essential amino acids and nutrients.
ICIPE is leading the development of a guideline that is to aid small scale farmers in rearing and harvesting insects in Kenya and Uganda to help replace meat and fish in animal feed industry.
The guideline will enable small-scale insect farmers create associations to produce insects for sale as raw material or semi-processed for sale to smallholder, and medium to large-scale poultry and fish producers.
According to Dr. Sunday Ekesi, the head of insects for feed program at ICIPE, the organization has identified an Africa-based list of 500 insect species and are looking at appropriate insects such as black flies, fruit flies, beetles, grasshoppers and crickets with basic requirements for rearing and harvesting.
He noted that to keep up with rising worldwide consumption of meat, livestock farming is proving to be increasingly more costly, not just financially but also for the environment, especially if animal feed production and transportation are taken into consideration.
“Insects are an excellent source of proteins with nutritional qualities similar to those of meat and fish and therefore can be can be utilized for animal feed in place of soybean,” Ekesi observed.
Livestock farming currently accounts for around 18 percent of human-induced global emissions, which will increase with rising demand for animal products.
As demand increases, so does the necessity for livestock feed, of which protein is the most expensive component.
By 2050, world meat production is projected to double with the fastest increases occurring in developing countries. This is a huge opportunity for livestock farmers, but it is costly financially and environmentally.
“We are not saying insects are the answer to global food security. But it is clear that certain insect species can bridge a significant gap in nutritional year-round, affordable animal feed,” Ekesi added.
The study on the edible stink bug was conducted as part of ICIPE’s new Insects for Food and Feed research program, that intends to respond to aggravated food insecurity, especially in developing countries, due to issues surrounding population growth, urbanization, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, over- and under-nutrition, and persistent poverty. Enditem