Globally, more than two billion people live on dietary cultures where insects are eaten as part of their traditions.
Since insects are found in abundance in nature, they can help address food and feed security.
In Kenya, cricket farming is slowly gaining popularity since 2014 with small and medium farms being set up in various regions with the help of researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
The domesticated house cricket (Acheta domesticas) and the field cricket (gryllus bimaculatas) are the most popularly reared cricket species in Kenya. This is because of their superior taste and texture and short life cycle.
The cricket are best bred in temperate areas with a temperature range of between 25 -30 degrees centigrade. For successful rearing of these insects, one has to mimic their natural environment as much as possible.
They are reared in concrete pens or boxes that have egg trays aligned to provide the dark environment for hiding. Once the male crickets stridulate, plates containing a thin layer of moist cotton wool are placed in the pens and the female lay eggs within 24 hours; egg laying duration is 7-14 days.
The first colony can be developed from scratch but with ongoing research at Jkuat Insect Farm (JIF), getting the eggs to start your colony has been made easy. You can get your startup kit with enough eggs to start your colony.
Crickets have three stages in their life cycle: egg, nymph, and adult. The eggs take seven to ten days to hatch at temperatures above 20 degrees centigrade with 28 -30 degrees centigrade being the ideal.
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Their entire life cycle lasts two to three months depending on their environment.
Crickets are herbivorous, feeding on flowers, fruit, and leaves, grasses, leaves, and the shoots of young plants. Feeding of crickets is easy and it’s not capital intensive as they feed on garden and kitchen waste.
The cost of setting up a cricket farm largely depends on the size and the kind of structure that an individual is willing to set up.
The crickets can be set up in a variety of structures ranging from plastic drawers, plywood boxes, plastic cylinder pens or concrete block pens.
Setting up a small pen approximately 1.0Mx 0.75M is about Sh15,000, this includes buying one drinker, egg trays, and cotton wool and plastic plates for egg laying.
They hate dirt!
Hygiene, spacing and aeration is of paramount importance when it comes to cricket rearing. Currently, the risk of disease is almost non-existent.
However, with the increase in cricket population, diseases are likely to arise.
Overcrowding or fungi contamination due to poor aeration in the feeds is suspected to be the cause of some unexplained death of crickets. Moulding in the eggs also reduces their viability hence adequate aeration is key.
The feed manufacturers will be the biggest market for the crickets as compared to the food industry here in Kenya. Omena and shrimps are the main source of proteins in the feed industry.
However due to over-fishing and complexity of domestication of omena, the feed manufacturers are resulting to use the non-conventional sources of protein in this case the crickets.
Use of crickets as an alternative source of protein is more sustainable because they are not seasonal hence they can be used throughout the year.
The cricket research project at JKUAT started as a way of up-scaling the use of cricket as food and feed to solve the problem of food and feed security.
Apart from coming up with the best practices to rear the crickets, it has also come up with innovative products that will help people to embrace the non-conventional food source such as the cricket.
- The writer is a Senior Lecturer and lead researcher on edible insects research at JKUAT.