Creating an affordable food source to tackle malnutrition in Zimbabwe

Scientists at the University of Sheffield are helping to tackle malnutrition in Zimbabwe through the mass development of an insect-based porridge.

Working in collaboration with experts from Abertay University on the £1 million project, the researchers are aiming to create an affordable food source with the help of mopane worms, best known in the UK for being part of eating challenges on the TV show I’m a Celebrity.

In Zimbabwe, the worms are a commonly farmed delicacy and a valuable source of nutrients.

The international project will modify existing local recipes and upscale traditional rearing techniques used by mopane worm farmers, strengthening availability of the grubs and that of other edible bugs.

In the long term, it is hoped that this will improve the health and nutritional status of primary school children in some of the country’s poorest communities.

Undernutrition in primary school children is a recognised problem in Zimbabwe, and nutritional inadequacy during this critical developmental stage can have long term negative effects.

This is why the study is so important, and its strength is that it uses a culturally relevant approach as a solution. Mopane worms are a traditional food and an important part of the country’s diet and economy. It is also a very sustainable food source that is rich in protein and micronutrients.

Another strength of the project is that it brings together key stakeholders, starting from the producers of mopane worms to policy leaders, researchers and communities. This will enable us to develop united strategies for improving long-term policy and public health, and maximizing impact on poorer communities.”

Dr Viren Ranawana, researcher in the project from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR)

The innovative project has been made possible through a grant from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund scheme and also involves experts from three universities in Zimbabwe.

Project lead, Dr Alberto Fiore from Abertay University, said: “At the moment, maize is a staple food in Zimbabwe and is used in the production of traditional foods for the whole family, including for weaning children.

“This is problematic as it is extremely low in protein, essential minerals, amino acids and fatty acids.

“It also contributes to obesity, which, combined with malnutrition is an inescapable problem right now.

He added: “We know through existing research that edible insects are a good source of nutrients and, importantly, they are very affordable.

“We will be using existing techniques on a larger scale, and we hope this will help improve health in school-age children.”

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