In the village of Namthoe, Kisumu County, Charles Odira is engaged in a unique farming venture that may not be common among many Kenyans.
Odira raises crickets (Achita domestica), a practice he has been perfecting on a three-acre section of his farm for the past seven years.
Beyond raising these insects, he also harvests, dries, and processes them into various food products.
Odira employs two primary methods in cricket farming. The first is the pen system, where he has constructed brick, concrete, or wooden enclosures, while the other method involves raising crickets in plastic crates.
“Since crickets are sensitive to light, I have created hiding spots for them using paper egg trays,” Odira explains.
The crickets are fed a diet of chicken feed and vegetables and provided with water through a cotton wool or blanket soaked in water.
“We do this because if you put water in a container, the crickets might fall in and drown,” he says.
So far, Odira has amassed a significant number of crickets.
“I have six pens, each housing 30,000 crickets. Additionally, I have 55 crates, with each crate accommodating 1,500 crickets, and I’m still expanding,” Odira reveals.
Crickets are typically ready for harvest after three months.
“Before harvesting, we fast them for the last 24 hours to clean out their digestive system since these insects are consumed whole,” he explains.
After harvesting, Odira can choose how to prepare the crickets.
“These crickets can be roasted and consumed as a snack, or they can be dried and ground into a flour used to enhance other food products.”
Odira grinds cricket flour and blends it with wheat flour to make bread, as well as with millet flour for porridge preparation.
The market for crickets has been growing among both livestock farmers and consumers, providing farmers like Odira with a ready market.
For Odira, this farming venture is a profitable business. He sells dried crickets for Ksh 2,800 per kilogram, with customers coming from all corners of the country.
“On average, we produce up to 40 kilograms of dried crickets every month and sell them. Some customers even place orders before the harvest,” he shares.
Additionally, he produces up to 20 kilograms of cricket flour, which he sells for Ksh 3,000 per kilogram. “We sell this flour and also use it to make various food products such as biscuits, cakes, and bread,” he adds.
On a daily basis, Odira bakes around 30 loaves of bread, weighing 400 grams each, which are popular among the locals, sold at Ksh 50 each, as he strives to attract more customers.
Charles Odira is among the farmers in various parts of Africa who have embraced cricket farming, with scientists suggesting that these insects could provide a solution to protein malnutrition not only in Kenya but across the continent.
According to Dr. Chrysantus Mbi Tanga, a scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), crickets have high protein and fat content, making up 57% and 36% of their weight, respectively.
“Porridge made from cricket-enhanced flour contains protein levels ranging from 15 to 16 grams per 100 grams and an energy content between 408 and 414 kilocalories per 100 grams. This exceeds the recommended protein content of 13 grams per 100 grams and energy content of 400 kilocalories per 100 grams for children aged between one and three years,” Dr. Tanga explains.
Charles Ng’ong’a, a research scientist at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST), emphasizes that besides the nutritional aspects, rearing crickets is environmentally friendly and requires fewer resources compared to livestock.
“Insects require minimal land, food, and water. For instance, you need 1.7 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of crickets. This is in contrast to the 2.5 kilograms of feed required to produce one kilogram of chicken meat, five kilograms for one kilogram of pork, and ten kilograms for one kilogram of beef,” Ng’ong’a explains.
Apart from nutritional benefits, insects are also known to feed on various waste materials, contributing to environmental cleanliness, as noted by Asaah Ndambi, an animal production expert and lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
However, as the benefits of these insects continue to be praised, scientists emphasize the importance of safety. “Like other wild animals, insects can produce toxins that may be harmful. Therefore, proper collection, preparation, and storage procedures are essential,” advises Dr. Tanga.
Manufacturing processes are crucial in eliminating some of the risks. “For crickets, after harvesting, they should be immersed in hot water for about five minutes to kill them and also to eliminate disease-causing microorganisms if present,” Ng’ong’a explains.