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Home / Achieving Woman

Mothers turn to a hot meal of crickets and worms is saving children’s lives

 Cheptebo dispensary nurse in-charge Edna Lagat and Entomologist Dr Caroline Kipkoech (Photo: Fred Kibor/Standard)

Women gather under acacia trees to shield themselves from the searing heat as the children cling on their laps, crying for breast milk.

One of them is demonstrating how porridge is made by mixing edible insect-enriched flour with water to make an even paste before bringing it to boil while stirring.

These are scenes one is confronted with every Monday in several Kerio Valley villages, as hundreds of mothers congregate to receive enriched food, following rampant severe cases of malnourishment of children under five locally.

This has also led to high rates of infant mortality.

A baseline survey commissioned by World Vision Kenya in August last year found that more than 30 percent of children under five in Kerio Valley suffered stunted growth occasioned by severe malnutrition, and which led to rampant high morbidity and mortality rates.

However, since the introduction of the enriched porridge six months ago, the situation has changed, with the region recording nearly zero malnutrition- related deaths.

And now the new feeding craze is changing the lives of the toddlers locally, as more nursing mothers are eager to receive the "insect porridge".

Irene Kosgei, one of the beneficiaries, said before they accepted to feed their children with the enriched porridge, underweight cases among the minors, high morbidity and stunted growth were rampant.

“Many children have died as a result of diseases occasioned by malnourishment, but since we began using the insect porridge, the scenario has tremendously changed. As you can see, our children are healthy, courtesy of the porridge,” she told The Standard.

She notes due to high poverty rates, the children looked pale, malnourished, had discoloured hair and were underweight.

“Visits to hospitals were frequent because we understand when a child lacks a balanced diet their immunity is suppressed thus they become susceptible to various diseases,” she notes.

Agnes Mutai, another mother, said they entirely relied on millet and maize flour to make porridge for their children resulting in malnourishment as it lacks the essential nutrients.

“Just like other well-nourished children, we are now proud of our children too because they are developing normally. Impaired feeding impacts the child growth including their mental ability,” she stated.

Due to high poverty levels and erratic rainfall patterns, residents are forced to rely on semi-pastoralism and affording a decent meal is challenging.

 A section where crickets are reared inside the greenhouse (Photo: Fred Kibor/Standard)

Lack proper food

“If you look around, most children lack proper food due to the poverty levels. But the World Vision model has filled a big void in the region,” Judith Jeptoo said after receiving the enriched porridge at their Kamugul Upper village.

This sad reality motivated Dr Caroline Kipkoech, an entomologist from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, to come up with a greenhouse model through World Vision to breed and rear edible insects to be used in enriching porridge for the children.

“After doing a lot of research on insects and appreciating the effects of severe malnutrition in the region, we came up with the greenhouses to rear the insects,” said Dr Kipkoech as she took The Standard through the process of rearing the insects at Cheptebo rural development centre.

She said they wanted a sustainable and an effective way of alleviating malnutrition in the region.

“Edible insects have been eaten since time immemorial, we conducted sensitisation programmes to ensure locals accept to go traditional and feed their children with the insects. They wanted insects only sourced from the region,” she disclosed.

And within a week, she noted, locals had collected the insects ready to be bred.

At the greenhouses, meal-worms, crickets and grasshoppers are specifically reared in cages under their ideal conditions to ensure they multiply rapidly as required.

“After they mature, the insects are fed on vegetables before being placed on a drier to clean the gut. They are then dipped in hot water to clean their bodies and then returned to the drier to ensure they are completely dried. They are then mixed with millet or other food item and ground to powder to make porridge,” she said.

She noted the insects are extremely-rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9 that boosts the immunity and mental health of children. 

Edna Lagat, a nurse at Cheptebo dispensary, noted children and mothers in the region were iron-deficient because of consuming non-nutritious foods.

“The insects have addressed the macro-nutrients challenge we were experiencing and at the moment there are no deaths among children related to malnutrition. The population initially wondered how they could consume the insects but it has changed their health,” she said.

World Vision Elgeyo Marakwet area manager Moses Kiptugen said the most affected region was the semi-arid Kerio Valley, where the statistics showed malnutrition had surpassed the national rate of 19 per cent.

“It affects over 6,000 children under five years in the county. The number could even be higher because the study is conducted after every two years,” Mr Kiptugen said yesterday.

He said the areas experiencing alarming rates of stunted growth included Chegilet, Rimoi, Kapkayo, Arror, Kocholwo, Mogil, Chesongoch, Tot and Sangach.

“Stunted growth impacts the physical, mental and psychological well-being of a child for their lifetime and can only be remedied through balanced nutrition,” he observed.

He said they had distributed 30 tonnes of high iron rich beans and orange fleshed sweet potatoes to families as one way of supplementing their diets.

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