Caterpillars might not be haute cuisine for many Americans, but a new organization in Africa is promoting them as a simple, nutritious solution to the continent’s high rate of malnutrition. Shea caterpillars are brown, wriggly worms about the size of a child’s pinky finger. They are already sold live at markets in places like Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked West African nation that has a shortage of physicians. The caterpillar larva is recognized as highly nutritious and is eaten with many of the region’s staple foods, such as sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams, and okra.
Two engineers from Burkina Faso who specialize in microbiology and nutrition, Kahitouo Hien and Christophe Mandi, have devised a business to promote local products, and they employ local women as caterpillar collectors. The organization, called FasoProt, will sell a protein supplement made from ground caterpillar to children and pregnant women. FasoProt will also sell a more expensive delicacy, dried caterpillars, to subsidize the protein supplement.
It is estimated that malnutrition in Burkina Faso is responsible for 50 percent of children who die before their fifth birthday. Half of the population lives below the poverty level. The health situation was aggravated in 2009, when the heaviest rainfall in 90 years triggered massive floods that contaminated water sources and forced many to flee. Given local success, Hien and Mandi envision their project being replicated in neighboring West and Central African countries.