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JKUAT researcher pioneers cricket farming

By KAMAU NJOROGE
Stella Maina speaks of cricket farming as she showcases some of the dried insects and products from the milled high nutrient food.

 

The desire to diversify sources of nutrition and improve the country’s food basket made Stella Maina, a researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), embark on a research and rearing of crickets.

Maina, a researcher at the University’s insects farm narrated to Mt. Kenya Star how she came to find out that crickets have a high nutritional value to both humans and animals especially poultry, and later started the project of rearing and value addition to crickets at JKUAT’s insect farm.

 She notes that crickets have 60 percent of proteins rich in zinc, ion and vitamin B12.

For now, she is leading other researchers and students in value addition of the crickets whereby they are baking cookies and cake muffins using grinded/milled dried crickets that have been reared at the farm.

Maina notes they are currently producing porridge flour made from crickets which is highly notorious and beast for weaning kids. She told the writer that the demand for cricket products is very high and has surpassed their capacity.

She also notes that poultry feeds manufacturers in the region have tendered supply of crickets from the University’s farm but their production cannot meet the demand. She says that crickets are used as supplements in poultry feeds. At first they collected crickets from the thickets and started rearing them in a house within the institution but later realized that the mortality rate was high due to the environment they were being reared in.

“It became very hard to collect the cricket eggs so that we can start a new colony. Again the crickets were dying at a very high rate so we had to devise other plans,” she said.

Maina said that they decided to import cricket eggs from Germany and also fetched others from the International Center of Insects Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi and incubated them to start the farm’s first colony.

“We incubated the eggs and they hatched after one month. We fed them on vegetables, kitchen waste, potato and banana peels as well as leaves for one month. They mature after one month. Since they were mixed both sex, they mated and laid eggs for another period of one month.”

She noted that crickets are better reared in egg trays since they provide a dark environment suitable for the crickets. “Crickets like dark places and egg trays places in opposite direction close to each other provide the darkness where the crickets hide in,” she said.

The researcher, who pointed out that crickets rearing is a profitable venture, said that after collecting enough eggs to put up another colony, they harvested the adults.

“After harvesting the adults, they are cleaned with warm water and then dried in the sun or one can use freezers. After the crickets are dried they can be cooked just like peanuts to make them crunchy,” she said.

Maina said that the dried crickets can be grinded or milled into flour which is used to bake cookies, cake muffins or in porridge flour. “People are increasingly adopting and embracing cricket products. Our cake muffins and cookies are yummy and we can’t satisfy the demand. Again mothers with young kids are flocking here for the porridge flour,” Maina said.

She however noted that their products are yet to reach shelves in supermarkets around the region but indicated that plans are at an advanced stage to have the products branded and properly packaged so that they can find them way to the supermarkets’ shelves.

Maina said that their training to farmers across Kiambu County on the benefits and proceeds of rearing crickets have bore fruits noting that some 24 farmers have already embraced the practice and are currently supplying them with crickets.

“This is a very profitable venture which requires less starting capital and also the production cost is very minimal. Farmers willing to start up can buy cricket eggs that are sold in plates which goes for sh500 per plate. The place harbors about 2,500-5,000 eggs. Again they take less time to hatch and mature,” she said. “

Unlike cows, goats or poultry, crickets will feed on materials that can be easily gotten at no cost. Again they don’t require a large portion of land to be reared, they can be reared in boxes measuring 4mx6m,” she added.

While pointing out that crickets rearing can be a lucrative agribusiness venture, she noted that a kilo of crickets is sold at sh1000. One thousand crickets make it a kilo.

“Crickets price is high because of their high nutritional value and the high demand of their products. This is a good business opportunity that is yet to be explored,” the researcher said.

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