Stephen Mugendi squats on the roadside along the Embu-Chuka Highway and works on tent-like polythene structure, termites trap.
After waiting patiently for minutes, the resident of Kibugua area scoops out a handful of termites that he stashes into a container.
For every scoop of termites, Mugendi’s daily wages piles up at the end of the day he has eked a living for his family as well as provided an affordable source of protein to many.
Just like Mugendi, scores of other residents of Embu and Tharaka-Nithi Counties trap termites that they fry and sell in the local market.
The winged termite is delicacy that is valued in those parts as a crucial protein source and a supplement to the staple food.
While travelling along the stretch of the road between Embu County’s Runyenjes town and Mitheru market in Tharaka-Nithi County during the rainy season, you are bound to see termite traps mainly near anthills.
Mugendi says the termites can be eaten raw or cooked and reveals that he has eaten them since he was a child. He says they fry the termites without oil but add a little salt for taste.
“Many people in this area eat termites. In the market they sell faster than meat since they are cheaper. From one trap I am able to get enough termites to make 30 glasses of fried termites which I sell at Sh50 per glass,” says Mugendi.
In a report on a session published on the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) website dated September 20, 2018, scientists identified 1,900 species of edible insects that are rich in protein and vitamins.
They include beetles, butterfly and moths, bees, wasps and ants, grasshoppers and crickets, termites, among others. The reports notes that the insects are healthy nutritious alternatives to chicken, pork, beef and even fish due to their rich protein and good fats, high in calcium, iron and zinc.
Trapping the termites involves placing twigs on top of anthills holes through which the termites move to the outside.
The trappers then cover the area with a black polythene paper bag to create darkness leaving only a single exit where termites would come out when attracted by light.
“At the exit of the trap we dig a half feet hole and place a white container where the termites collect. We then transfer them into a larger container which we cover to prevent them from flying away,” says Mugendi.
In Mitheru market, Justus Njeru, 24, pounds the anthills with a heavy object in the morning until ants begin to come out. He fries them in a sufuria and sells at the market.
“Beating the ground or a drum near an anthill deceives the termites that it is raining and thus they come out,” he explains. At a hotel in Runyenjes town, fried termites and ugali is one of the delicacies sold at Sh70. An employee at the hotel said after seeing youth hawking fried termites, they decided to add them to the menu.
“To make the dish natural we sometimes serve termites on a piece of a banana leave. We sell it as our cultural thing,” said the worker who requested anonymity.
In Gikuuri shopping centre, we met Joseph Nthiga hawking fried termites. He said he makes at least Sh500 a day revealing that elderly women are his main customers.
Nthiga moves from village to village scouring the insects and that way he earns a living. For teacher Cathlyn Wanja and Bessy Wawira, they have been eating termites since they were young.
Teacher Wanja who frequents a hotel that serves termites in Runyenjes town praised the insects as natural and having no side effects since they are not prone to any chemicals