Climate change drives nutritious insects from the bush
Wednesday December 15 2021
After every rainy season, grasshoppers become the most sought-after delicacy in Uganda so much that an employee of Uganda Airlines, the country’s flag-carrier, was recently suspended for hawking these edible, long-horned insects on the plane.
Technically known as bush crickets and locally known as nsenene, these greenish, protein-rich insects are also a seasonal source of income for many Ugandans because of their readily available market.
Health experts even encourage people to eat grasshoppers because of their nutritional value: aside from containing high amounts of proteins, they are also rich in fats, dietary fibre, antioxidants and ash.
A 2013 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) research concluded that grasshoppers are a good option for fighting malnutrition because they have a higher protein concentration than beef and fish.
In addition, FAO said that adding edible insects like grasshoppers to more people’s diet could also help to fight hunger.
Grasshoppers migrate at night in large groups twice a year, usually around May and November, periods during which many enterprising Ugandans across the country stay up till dawn to trap them.
Some savvy businessmen with a knack for making good money invest in several elaborate traps using oil drums, iron sheets and strong fluorescent lightbulbs that draw in swarms of grasshoppers. For decades, grasshoppers have been a great source of nutritious food and income in the country, but now climate change is changing that trend.
Because they are bush crickets, grasshoppers live and thrive in forests and wetlands, but now the rampant deforestation and burning of swamps by people seeking extra farmland as population numbers surge is stripping them of their natural habitats.
In addition to habitat loss, the changing climate is increasingly making rainy seasons unpredictable, which is disrupting their lifecycles – and decimating populations and threatening them with extinction.
With the high levels of unemployment currently bedevilling Uganda’s youth, declining populations of these migratory insects means depriving many jobless young people of vital seasonal employment.
Mark Kahwa, a seasoned grasshopper catcher from Hoima, western Uganda, says that in the previous years he used to make about Ush7 million per season from the sale of grasshoppers.
Back then, Mr Kahwa says, the main challenges grasshopper catchers faced were the insects’ short shelf life and unreliable electricity supply as electric light is vital in the business.