Insect science: the need for more attention in Africa

a great delicacy in Umuofia
Copyright: icipe

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  • In Africa, more than 300 insect species are consumed, many others cause diseases
  • But African governments pay less attention to insect science
  • Governments and academic institutions need to build capacity in insect science

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[WAD MEDANI, SUDAN] Governments, the African Union and other bodies such as the FAO should work closely with African insect scientists instead of depending more on experts from outside Africa, a conference has heard.
According to insect scientists at the 22nd Scientific Conference of the African Association of Insect Scientists (AAIS) in Sudan last month (23-26 October), they are hardly consulted on insects matters such as the fall armyworm, which is causing great apprehension in several African countries including Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan and Uganda.
The experts say that insects cause diseases and are also good for nutrition, making it necessary for insect science to be taken seriously in Africa, especially by policymakers and institutions of higher learning.
Insect science – also called entomology – needs more attention in Africa, they say.
The conference called on Africa to prioritise entomology to aid understanding disease transmission, nutrition and for poverty alleviation, especially in rural communities, among others.
Nabil Hamed Hassan Bashir, a professor of insect physiology and toxicology at the University of Gezira, Sudan, says that insects can be beneficial or harmful to humans, depending on their impacts.
“If insects are interfering with our interests, they are pests or disease vectors. But if we can take advantage of them, they are beneficial.” Bashir explains.
For instance, insects such as bees are useful for pollination and agricultural productivity but others including mosquitoes that transmit malaria are disease vectors while those that attack crops and destroy them, leading to low agricultural production are pests.
He says insects form about 70 per cent of creatures on earth with about one million already known species and 10,000 more identified annually.

“Without data you cannot understand insects and get benefits or solve any problems that may arise out of them.”

Nabil Hamid Hassan Bashir, University of Gezira 


Whereas insect science has advanced in Africa since the founding of the Kenya-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), a lot still needs to be done, especially in building capacity in areas such as medical and veterinary entomology, taxonomy, ecology, anatomy and physiology, Bashir adds.
“African universities are trying hard but only in theory; not on the practical side,” says Bashir. “They are still far behind due to lack of high technological infrastructure required to study insects apart from the icipe ones on the continent.
“Without data you cannot understand insects and get benefits or solve any problems that may arise out of them. To build data you need high technology equipment for research and development.”
Bashir adds that there is a need for African institutions of higher learning to develop curriculums on insect science to aid its teaching.
According to Abiola Oke, an entomologist at the Nigeria’s National Horticultural Research Institute, some African communities depend on certain insects for food, but many species are disease vectors and pests, making the development of entomology a necessity.
“It has been neglected in the educational systems right from primary schools to universities’ training. Insects study is not prioritised at all,” Oke says.
She tells SciDev.Net that policymakers hardly consult experts on insects issues and that AAIS needs to be recognised by African governments so that they can tap into the wealth of knowledge it has to tackle problems such as that of fall armyworm.
According Saliou Niassy, AAIS president, the use of insects for human food and animal feed is gaining importance in southern Africa where more than 300 edible insect species are consumed, citing species such as mopane worm, termites and edible stink bugs.
He says there is a promising future of edible insects due to high demand of nutrient-rich products, robustness of the food systems, thus regulations are needed for promoting use of insects for human food and animal feed. 

“The lack of a legal framework inhibits entrepreneurial activities investment, new products and employment,” Niassy notes.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.