Award

Unlocking the Protein Potential of Grasshoppers and Locusts

In Kenya, food security, increasing poverty, and the ravages of climate change are international development challenges that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is trying to curb as a part of its international development mission, all while trying to empower countries to find development solutions in conjunction with U.S. foreign aid and assistance.

The demand for protein-rich foods in Kenya is increasing, which increases the demand for animal feeds, and the production of such feed has serious environmental effects. Animal feed is often sourced from fish, but because of climate change some fish from the wild are becoming extinct. Dairy and beef cattle are becoming a challenge to raise because the amount of available arable land is shrinking, and many small-scale farmers cannot afford the infrastructure to support dairy and beef cattle. In contrast, the rearing of non-ruminant animals, such as poultry, is potentially an economically accessible and more environmentally responsible solution if the cost of feed, which accounts for 70 percent of the production cost for chicken, can be surmounted.

Researchers from Kenya's Egerton University identified several local species of grasshopper and locust, conducted studies to optimize and scale controlled breeding conditions, and developed processes for converting the protein contained in the insects for human consumption and animal feed. This technology provides an inexpensive method of obtaining proteins in a country where, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization, 39 percent of Kenyan children— more than double the emergency threshold—suffer from chronic malnutrition due to poverty.

To empower individual small farmers, the researchers developed a toolkit that would make insect rearing and processing accessible. The researchers also developed processing methods in the hopes of transferring the technology to investors interested in mass-producing an inexpensive protein source.

The recipients occur at varying levels. The "classic" recipient of the transferred technology is the Kenyan investor based in Nairobi who is presently commercializing the technology. Additional recipients are Kenyans themselves, who will be consumers of the food products that result from this technology. The researcher, John Nduko, received technical assistance on innovation commercialization—a sort of "meta-technology transfer"—from Michigan State's Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI) in 2017. He accessed this expertise through GCFSI's competitive selection process of various researcher proposals from around the world, received a classic research grant, and participated in GCFSI's workshop on marketing his research as an innovation useful for practical application. In turn, Michigan State's GCFSI was the recipient of an ongoing cooperative agreement (entered into in 2012) with USAID's Global Development Lab as a part of the Higher Education Solutions Network.

Contact: Patricia Doutriaux, (202) 712-4930, pdoutriaux@usaid.gov

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Mid-Atlantic