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Start consuming insects Scientists offer solution to hungry populations


As the World Population Day is marked on July 11, many challenges continue to bedevil continents.

According to the World Population Review, Africa is the second-largest and second most populous ontinent on earth with an estimated population in 2013 of 1.033 billion people.

Based on the projected population by the year 2050 and the previous population, the World population Statistics notes that the population of Africa is expected to have reached 1.069 billion people in 2014. As a result, it still remains the second most populous continent in the world but makes up only around 15 percent of the entire world. 

Africa is home to 54 recognised sovereign states and countries, nine territories and two de facto independent states with very little recognition. The country with the largest population in Africa is Nigeria, which was estimated to be just over 170 million in 2012. The country with the smallest population in Africa is Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, which is a territory under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. Lastly, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the largest total land area of African countries ,totalling around 2,345,410 square kilometres.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated in 2009 that the population of Africa had hit the one billion mark and had, therefore, doubled in size over the course of 27 years. 

Many consider Africa’s population growth a bit frightening, with predictions placing the continent’s population at 1.9 billion by 2050. By 2100, three quarters of the world’s growth is expected to come from Africa, reaching 4.1 billion people by 2100 to claim over one third of the world’s population. Most countries will at least triple in population as the region has very high fertility rates and very little family planning in most regions. 

The current world population in 2014 is 7,211,239,210. The population count is estimated based on the total number of births this year, the total number of deaths this year, and the ending population of 2013, which was 7,203,304,915. 

As much of Africa is still developing, and it contains some of the poorest countries on earth, time will tell how it will sustain such massive population growth. This challenge is already being experienced as the continent suffers from food insecurity.

Food insecurity remains the biggest challenge facing most African countries amid a chain of diseases that include malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and Aids.

The continent suffers food insecurity because it has remained heavily dependent on rain fed agriculture, leaving it suffering greatly from effects of climate change and global warming. Prolonged droughts, flooding and very high temperatures have affected food production and left the continent’s population reeling to the effects of hunger.

In order to counter this, scientists at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) are calling on food insecure countries to consider consuming insects.

The scientists note that 870 million people who are currently going hungry globally can feed on the 2,000 insects that are consumable by humans adding that insects are healthy, nutritious and an alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and fish.


“Governments need to encourage insect farming as a new way of addressing food security to help replace  meat and fish that are consumed and at the same time used as animal feeds,” said Dr Sunday Ekesi,  ICIPE’s Principal Scientists and Head of Arthropod Pathology.

According to Ekesi, it was unfortunate that 15 per cent of populations in developing countries are malnourished as they are unable to afford meat and fish yet the nutrition contents of insects are comparable to meat and fish.

“Insects can also be used as animal and aquaculture feed instead of fish products that are being over  exploited,” he noted.

Ekesi said that Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) from insects can also be used as alternative agents for fighting human-pathogenic micro-organisms.

“Insects can also be used to enhance functioning of the immune system of different organisms,” Ekesi  explained. He added: “They can also be used in treating wounds and filling demand for the production of  biofuels and fine chemicals.” 

His sentiments were echoed by Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director General of ICIPE who said: “What we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated by rectifying inefficiencies and food waste reduced as well as finding new ways of growing food.” 


Kelemu observed that edible insects have always been a part of human diets but in some societies there is a degree of distaste for their consumption. 

Many insects are rich in protein and good fats as well as high in calcium, iron and zinc. They also form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.

Kelemu revealed that although the majority of edible insects are gathered from forest habitats, innovation in mass-rearing systems has begun in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

“ICIPE has reared over 100 different arthropods species of insects since 1971 and is in a position to rear  more insects for countries that could show interest,” Kelemu noted.

She disclosed that insect harvesting and rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society, such as women and the landless.

“ICIPE has the technology that is used in producing insects instead of sending children to look for them in  the bush,” she explained.

Kelemu observed that wildfire and overharvesting insects from their natural habitat have contributed to a decline in many edible insect populations. 

She further noted that with the increasing climatic changes in the world, the distribution and availability of edible insects will be affected.


The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in its 2013 report notes that the increasing number of the world population can be well served by insects that offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science in both developed and developing countries.

To accommodate this number, FAO notes that current food production will need to almost double as land is also becoming scarce and expanding the area devoted to farming is rarely a viable or sustainable option. 

It stated that insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) than most livestock. Methane for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches.

Oceans are overfished and climate change and related water shortages could have profound implications for food production.

In Africa FAO initiated a review in 2003 to describe the contribution of edible insects to diets in Central Africa. 

The studies emphasizes on the Congo Basin because of the significant consumption of wild insects from important forestry resources and wildlife ecosystems that has been going on for several decades. 

The World Population Day marked on July 11, every year is a time to reflect on population trends and related issues. It aims to raise awareness of global population issues that include hunger, disease, warfare, welfare and human rights. The 2014 theme for the World Population Day is “A time to reflect on population trends and related issues”. Food insecurity remains a key trend affecting populations.

As the world gets ready to mark the end of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, goal number one was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Its first target was to halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day. Although the global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate, about 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990. However, at the global level 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty and people who are poor are not able to have three square meals per day. They end up in most cases having only one meal or going hungry for a number of days. 

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reducing poverty starts with children. It notes that more than 30 per cent of children in developing countries — about 600 million — live on less than $1 a day and that every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of five.

UNICEF notes that poverty contributes to malnutrition, which in turn is a contributing factor in over half of the under-five deaths in developing countries. Some 300 million children go to bed hungry every day. Of these only eight per cent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 per cent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency. 

— Extra information from Internet sources


This article was originally published in the Reject newspaper

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