In Rwanda’s northern district of Musanze, a young man, recently out of University of Rwanda’s school of veterinary medicine, has turned to rearing insects. That, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) makes him part of the answer to climate change, and the preservation of Earth’s environment.
Upon graduation, Dominique Xavio Imbabazi, set up Golden Insect Limited, a start up which now employs twenty other young people.
The company’s main harvest is black soldier flies, which are the most widespread form of insect farming worldwide. The insects’ eggs are fed on organic food waste. Under controlled conditions, the eggs hatch into larvae. By the time they are harvested, they are 40% to 65% proteins, and other essential nutrients, for both people and animals.
Imbabazi’s produce of black soldier flies is sold as animal feed, to pigs and poultry farmers, with his snails ending up in Kigali’s hotel kitchens.
“I started the business with a capital investment of Rwf 25,000 (about $25), rearing earthworms for fertilisers, later graduating to snails” said Imbabazi, “I love my job, it gives me a good income, it’s a livelihood for me and my family.”
For the FAO, insects are an important, potential source of food that we are yet to exploit fully.
To an increasing number of researchers in food production, the way we produce and consume our food is unsustainable. We are literally consuming ourselves, and other species out of existence. Entomophagy is one of the answers to the looming disasters of climate change, and environmental destruction.
Global population is estimated to have risen by at least another three billion by 2050. It is generally accepted that not just other species, but humanity itself, will face almost certain catastrophe, if we go on as we are.
That is certainly the view of the Eat-Lancet Commission on food, planet and health. The commission brought together thirty-seven leading scientists and researchers, from around the world, to look at the question of whether it will be possible to feed 10 billion people, while protecting the environment from total collapse.
Their conclusion, we should be relieved to know, was yes, with the proviso, that we have to radically change the way we now do things.
“Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar, will have to be reduced by 50%” says Professor Walter Willett, a member of the commission.
And there is quite an incentive to embrace the change. According to the commission, “unhealthy diets now, pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined.”
On the other hand, according to the commission’s own findings, and a large body of work before it, “a diet rich in plant-based foods, with fewer animal source foods, confers both improved health and environmental benefits…Overall, the literature indicates that such diets are win win in that they are good for both people and planet.” Based on the commission’s analysis, such change in diet would save 11.1million lives a year, between 19% and 24% of adults a year, who die from dietary related diseases.
And for those who might be in need of a gentle transition to getting their proteins from plants, Imbabazi has the answer: “snails are high in protein, low in fat, and are also a good source of iron, calcium, vitamin A, among other minerals.”
In fact, human beings have had insects in their diets for thousands of years. Across Africa, including some in Rwanda, orthoptera are a popular snack.
The potentially tragic irony however, is that today’s farming practices, with over use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, encroachment on wildlife habitat, is leading to near extinction of many insects.
But, as the Eat-Lancet commission sees it, there is hope. “Food will be defining issue of the 21st century. Unlocking its potential will catalyse the achievement of both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement (on climate change). An unprecedented opportunity exists to develop food systems as a common thread between many international, national, and business policy frameworks, aiming for improved human health and environmental sustainability.”
In Musanze, Imbabazi is already ahead of the game, a pioneer, certainly in Rwanda.