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  • Musonda Mumba

Africa O Africa – Yes we eat these insects – Mother Africa’s Healing Foods.

Caterpillars (Mopane Worms). Source: Hadithi Africa

December 2019. I travelled for nearly 1,000km to take my children to my home town of Mansa, in northern Zambia which isn’t that far from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Driving to my home town is a treat during this time of the year. Mushrooms of all kinds, wild fruits, traditional vegetables – all in bloom, in season and ready to be harvested. It’s an incredible treat! I did not quite appreciate this time of the year as a child but now with life lived experience, science, knowledge and wisdom – I get it.

Mushrooms I photographed in my hometown, Mansa, Zambia, December 2019.

A feast at the table at my aunt’s house, my son asks me. Mama what is this? Me: Termites (Inswa) and caterpillars (infinkubala) and the taste like popcorns, I assure him. He doesn’t believe me until he tastes them and affirms as such. It’s hilarious as he is only 5 years old and can be forgiven.

Mother Earth – like a stern mother – putting us in a sorry corner, COVID-19 perhaps gives us a moment for introspection with regards to what we have done to mama. Not only has this pandemic brought into sharp focus the value of nutrition for our very survival, but also the importance of healthy food systems.

Many indigenous and local communities across sub-Saharan Africa has depended on edible insects for their protein sources, a vital part of our nutrition. In southern Africa for example, the Mopane worm (Imbrasia belina) or caterpillar have been part of many people ‘s diets for hundreds if not thousands of years. In fact, an archeological find in Pomongwe Cave in Zimbabwe, stumbled upon deposits of dried Mopane worm deposits believed to be 6,000 years old. Early European settlers in the 19th century, across southern Africa, documented the collection and consumption of these worms which was deemed a “filthy” practice.

Fast forward into the 21st century, these same worms, from the “filthy” practice, have found their way into gourmet meals prepared by famous chefs and products on shelves across global supermarkets. Ironic as it may seem, scientific evidence now shows the very evidence much needed in COVID-19 world – is the need for more nutritious food sources to up ones’ immunity.

As we now navigate a COVID-19 world where nutrition is taking center stage, there is much to be said of the value of edible insects across Africa that have provided cheaper protein sources for local and mostly rural people. Recent studies have shown that edible insects contribute to the much needed micronutrients needed for human health and well-being. Nutrient deficiencies have contributed to health effects, leading to stunted growth, impairments in immune function, mental and physical development and reproductive function. Caterpillars and other edible insects have micronutrients and minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. In fact, scientific findings have shown that edible insects contain more zinc and iron than beef, chicken and pork, the very key elements for building ones immunity.

The very existence of these caterpillars is dependent on healthy forest ecosystems, particularly the Miombo forest species – Colophospermum mopane – after which they are named. And other tree species.

Alas deforestation rates are also threatening the very protein source for poor and vulnerable communities and thus undermining their very resilience.

As Africa navigates this COVID-19 world, perhaps it’s time to revisit Africa’s food systems, particularly nature’s gifts mostly from our forests. As the Global Nutrition Report 2020 gets launched in early June, scientific findings clearly show that “a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, balanced nutrition, quality sleep and a strong connection with their families and communities are all associated with a boost to the immune system”. Ubuntu.

Today as we mark Africa Day on 25th May, I am reminded of the very long journey that our ancestors have navigated for us to be where we are and YET, for many us, we have looked down on the very food systems that are healing. We ought to be intentional and deliberate about who are, what we eat and the knowledge that will be transferred to future generations. Perhaps a moment for reflection and a revisiting of our agroecological and healing food systems, as we will now live in a Covid-19 world.

Aluta Continua and Happy Africa Day, 2020.

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