By Bird Story Agency – Learnmore Nyoni
January winds blow through mopane forests of Gwanda district in Zimbabwe’s Matebeleland South province. Silibaziso Dube buckles up her waist wrap as she kneels down to blow life to the dying flames at a makeshift fireplace where a large tin of water sits precariously on two rocks.
Tswaranang Mashonja Community Group members have gathered to taste a new mopane worm based instant porridge developed by the Insects4Nutrition research team.
Dr Lesley Macheka is the Director for Innovation and Industrialisation at Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Zimbabwe, and the country lead investigator in the Insects4Nutrition research project.
He goes around distributing disposable cups and spoons.
Silibaziso Dube, a member of the Tswarananga Mashonja Community Group, then carefully pours the boiling water into each cup of the instant porridge powder.
We didn’t have the knowledge that you brought today. Traditionally we would crush mopane worms and then mix them will millet porridges that we gave to our children to promote their health and nutrition,” says Silibaziso Dube who is also the local village health worker.
Dube is one of the Gwanda community members attending the mopane worm based porridge product evaluation meeting.
“I think you should add more sugar, for the porridge to appeal to both the young and old,” says Mponkiseng Sibanda after tasting the porridge.
Mopane worm, scientifically known as Gonimbrasia belina is an edible caterpillar commonly consumed in Zimbabwe. Usually consumed as a relish, that goes with the Zimbabwean staple of white maize thick porridge (sadza).
Members of the Tswaranang Mashonja Community Group are excited to see Dr Lesley Macheka’s team back in their community.
A year ago, the research team purchased two tonnes of mopane worms, injecting huge cash supply into this rural community.
“We came back to the community where we harvested the mopane worms, showing them the porridge and doing some sensory evaluations. The comments from the community were very positive, they liked the porridge,” said Dr Macheka.
The Insects4Nutrition project intends to integrate this new insect protein enriched porridge into the school feeding programme, replacing the imported corn-soy blend porridges.
It targets children between the ages of seven and 11 who typically are in primary school.
Biochemical studies show that mopane worms have up to 65percent dry matter protein content and considerable proportions of minerals such as zinc and iron.
A quarter of children in Zimbabwean suffer from a malnourishment condition known as stunting, reports UNICEF Zimbabwe.
However, because of their texture, children cannot easily consume mopane worms directly.
Zimbabwean rural communities traditionally ground this nutrient dense insect, mix it with a sorghum or millet porridge, and then feed it to their children.
While this formula has helpful in promoting child nutrition for years on end, there had not been any scientific study to ascertain the nutritional impact of this age-old African recipe.
The novel mopane worm protein enriched instant porridge, blended with either pearl millet or sorghum, modifies and enhances the traditional local insect porridge recipe.
“We are targeting at solving micronutrient deficiency not only in children but also in adults. We are working on a mopane worm porridge because mopane worms have very high protein content then combine this with pearl millet or sorghum, which also very have high levels of micronutrients, then you have a good product, said Dr Lesley Macheka
Zimbabwe’s nutrition policy encourages the use of indigenous knowledge systems in solutions that promote human nutrition.
At a recent Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) meeting held at Cresta Lodge in Harare, the Food and Nutrition Council of Zimbabwe Director General Dr George Kembo encouraged academics in the SUN’s Research and Academia platform to come up with solutions that use locally available resources to fight child malnutrition.
“We don’t want to just say traditional foods are nutritious. We want our academics to lead in the micronutrient characterisation of our traditional foods. We want them to lead the nutrition discourse in the country,” said Dr Kembo.
Mopane worms are a seasonal edible caterpillar that besieges Gwanda twice a year.
Mopane worms’ entrepreneuer based in Ntepe, Gwanda Mr Saymore Ndlovu says that in a good year, an individual can make up to US$500 from mopane worm sales.
Tswaranang Mashonja Community Group meets regularly to learn more about mopane worms, their ecology, handling techniques, costing, sustainable harvesting, marketing and preservation of the mopane woodlands.
Felix Fortunes Matutu, the Gwanda Forestry Officer in the Zimbabwe Forestry Commission says the incomes from mopane worm sales incentivise villagers to adopt sustainable forestry practices that ensure effective management of woodlots.
Mopane worms are exported to Europe, Botswana, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gwanda mopane worm harvesters look forward to the successful rollout of this new mopane worm based porridge to promote better nutrition and improve household incomes since mopane worms will be bought in bulk.
In December last year, Entomologists in the Insects4Nutrition project constructed greenhouses to semi-domesticate mopane worms, to ensure a consistent supply of this key raw material in the mass production of third new insect protein enriched porridge.
“We are running tests, to semi-domesticate the mopane moth. We want to break the diapause of this moth since it appears only two times a year. We want to ensure an all year round supply of the mopane moth to support the mass production of this nutritious mopane worm enriched product,” said Dr Rudo Sithole.
Dr Rudo Sithole and Dr Gracian Bara, both from the University of Zimbabwe are the two local entomologists working on the semi-domestication of mopane worms.
The project will also run a six-month human efficacy trial to test for the bio-accessibility of the micronutrients in this new porridge.
The Insects4Nutrition research team is made up of investigators from Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Chinhoyi University of Technology University of Zimbabwe Sheffield University Abertey University and the Food and Nutrion Council of Zimbabwe.
The research team comprises of Dr Faith Manditsera, Dr Lesley Macheka, Dr Juliet Mubaiwa, Dr Prosper Chopera, Dr Tonderai Matsungo Dr Rudo Sithole, Dr Sandra Bhatasara, Dr Viren Ranawana, Dr Alberto Fiore and Dr George Kembo. bird story agency
All the photos above were taken at Mapula Village in Gwanda South Zimbabwe at a Tswaranang Mashonja Community Group meeting held this January, where community members tested samples of the insect enriched instant porridge. Photos Credit: Learnmore Nyoni