icipe, The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

Based in Kenya 2 minutes read

Transitioning to more circular, resilient, and efficient insect-based production systems in Africa and worldwide, tapping one of the world's most underutilized protein sources and expanding the very concept of livestock farming.

Shared prizewinner 2020

The Challenge: the search for new sources of protein

Traditional livestock farming has been on a sharp rise in the past 30 years, almost doubling in volume and expanding rapidly in evolving economies. According to FAO, the livestock sector contributes 30-40% of the global agricultural GDP, and 1.3 billion people depend on it for their livelihoods. Of these, about 600 million are poor smallholder farmers.

Today’s livestock systems also contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions and occupy almost one-third of the planet’s ice-free land area – a share that continues to grow. Additionally, livestock manure applied as fertilizer can run off with rain into local waterways, triggering algal blooms. Consequently, we have to find new methods of tapping alternative, underutilized sources of protein to establishing resilient food systems and improving food security.

Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on Earth, essential to keeping the biosphere running. Despite signs of decreasing numbers, there are an estimated ten quintillion individual insects currently alive, constituting one of the largest biomass groups of terrestrial organisms. Globally, more than 2,000 insect species are harvested from the wild and consumed. Yet only about ten of these can be domesticated and farmed.

Introducing insect-based protein in our food and animal feed is an important road to reducing the environmental effects of traditional livestock farming. Overcoming cultural, technical, and legal obstacles, as well as addressing health concerns, must be part of clearing the way. As the EU “Novel Foods” legislation has gradually pulled back its regulations, Europeans will be allowed to explore this new protein alternative as of 2021.

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) is a Nairobi-based non-profit organization and scientific research institute, founded in 1970 by Kenyan entomologist and environmental activist, Prof. Thomas Risley Odhiambo. It currently has a staff of more than 400 and collaborates with over 200 national systems, research institutes and universities around the world. 

Core backers include the Ethiopian government, the FCDO (UK), MOHEST (Kenya), SDC (Switzerland), SIDA (Sweden).

INSEFF projects have been funded by IDRC (Canada), ACIAR (Australia), NWO (Netherlands), NORAD (Norway), SIDA (Sweden) through BioInnovate Africa Programme, BMZ (Germany) through GIZ, DANIDA (Denmark), and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The initiative: farming and mining insects for food, feed, and more

Insects have been consumed in many parts of the world for millennia, but their domestication for technically advanced farming in circular food and feed systems is a more recent innovation. INSEFF (Insects for Food and Feed), a highly regarded research platform at icipe (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology), runs a set of research programs on how to use insects as a protein source. The platform aims to intensify the transition to more circular and efficient insect-based production systems in Africa and worldwide, contributing to more resilient food systems.

"Locust swarms plague many countries in Africa and elsewhere. But locusts are also the largest natural bioconversion of vegetation into nutrient-rich proteins, which can contribute to satisfying global demands."

icipe has pioneered insect science for sustainable development to alleviate poverty, ensure food security, and improve the well-being and resilience of communities in Africa. Committed to developing and extending tools and strategies to control insect pests and disease vectors, icipe is also the only international institution in Africa working primarily on arthropods.

The INSEFF technologies transform farmed edible insect species such as grasshoppers, black soldier flies and crickets to human food, animal feed, biofertilizer, and high-value products such as Omega-3 and antioxidant-rich insect oils.

icipe’s research operations cover the African continent, collaborating with farmers, scientists, and policymakers as well as the “One Health” program that unites human, animal, and environmental health in the African Union. icipe’s tech transfer unit brings knowledge generated in the INSEFF program to the field, to improve farmers’ livelihoods.