The chirping sound of crickets ushers you to the farm of one Charles Odira.He has skilfully perfected the art of keeping the dark noisy insects, an agribusiness, which offers him viable source of income.
Generally, crickets are known to be a nuisance to many people. But to others, crickets means food for human consumption because of their high protein content. They are viable food source for treating malnutrition. Researchers have also found them to be beneficial for gut health.
With this in mind, Odira ventured in this business. “Cricket rearing requires little space and seed capital to undertake and is not dependent on climatic conditions like other conventional agricultural practices,” explains Odira.
With a seed capital of Sh150,000, Odira went into the venture determined to reap absolute profits. He spent the money in setting up cricket pens, buying crates and feeds.
Having crafted the idea in 2015, Odira started by trapping about 50 mature garden crickets, which he put in a closed set-up. A few weeks later, the adult females began laying eggs, which he then used to expand the farm. Notwithstanding a few challenges at the onset, the agribusiness picked well and the farmer began eyeing good returns. Few months later, his stock grew gradually as the farm gained popularity and attracted local customers.
Today, Odira comfortably earns from the venture. On average, his farm rakes in Sh100,000 per month from the sale of assorted cricket products. He also earns additional income from selling dried crickets.“The profits are enormous, a kilo of dried crickets goes for Sh700 and in a month the least we can sell is 30kg, which is quite encouraging,” he says.
The production of crickets goes through various stages just like other insects. First, the female adults lay fertilised eggs under wet cotton wool placed in a substrate material. They take 12 to 14 days to hatch into nymphs. The nymphs feed on vegetables, soy flour and water, then develop into mature crickets.
On average, each mature cricket can lay up to 300-500 eggs in its lifespan. After hatching, the pinheads (young crickets) are transferred into the pen/crate where they are reared to maturity.
The younglings are placed on a wet blanket to save them from drowning. With the help of his two farm assistants, Odira routinely attends to the insects to ensure there is quality output.
He ensures that the crickets are housed under sheds that are kept clean, regularly supplied with clean water, crushed grain, sukuma wiki and some traditional herbs. They are also fed on feeds such as soy bean, fish meal and minerals dissolved in water. “Crickets need quantitative supply of proteins and minerals to breed and survive, otherwise they turn to eating each other when hungry,” says the farmer.
“The feeding is done at ad-libitum (meaning food is made available always),” he adds.
Still, he advises that proper hygiene must be maintained to keep the insects in good health. He says crickets are susceptible to bacteria and that a dirty environment can easily lead them to escape.
Processing and uses
An average temperature of between 28C and 32C is recommended for rearing crickets as any excesses may lead to dehydration.
Harvesting is done manually where the mature crickets are emptied into boiling water for about 5 minutes (blanching).
They are then cooled in cold water before being dried in a solar drier to a moisture content of below five per cent. This reduces the growth of bacteria and mould, extending their shelf-life.
Crickets can either be used directly as food for human consumption or ground into flour to fortify other foods. Cricket flour can be used as an ingredient to make products such as biscuits, cakes, porridge, chapati and mandazi.
“Due to their high nutritional value, cricket-based baked products attract high profits,” states Odira.
Odira has now partnered with an agricultural organisation where he has recruited and trained about 120 other farmers across Kisumu county who produce and supply his farm with crickets. He then buys wet cricket from the upcoming farmers at Sh700 per kilo.
According to the Association of Dutch Insect Farmers, cricket farming is a viable option for solving widespread cases of malnutrition and kwashiorkor. The research shows that high protein content in crickets can be utilised to solve the Protein-Energy-Malnutrition (PEM), a condition that is evident in children suffering from kwashiorkor and marasmus.
Apart from protein, crickets are rich sources of fats, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have many health benefits, and minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12.
Despite their high investment returns and high nutritional benefits, many communities have not embraced entomophagy and insect rearing. They view insect consumption with disgust and as a primitive practice.
Despite their numerous nutritional and health benefits, the skilful farmer regrets that many people have not developed a habit of eating crickets. This, he says, calls for sensitisation to address the misconception associated with the insects.