Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Chronicle Reporter
GOVERNMENT is set to introduce a school feeding programme for pupils aged between seven and 11 years who will receive mopane worms fortified porridge in a bid to address the pupils’ nutritional challenges.
The school feeding programme will have a trial run at Gwanda schools.
The research programme titled “Insects 4 Nutrition” is aimed at investigating the role of insects in addressing micronutrient deficiencies in children. Learners will be given the mopane worm fortified porridge over a period of three months and thereafter their nutrition levels will be checked.
Once the porridge is confirmed to have improved the nutrition status of children then it will be extended to other districts in the country.
Traditionally, mopane worms were ground and used to produce various products but that practice is slowly disappearing.
Micronutrition deficiencies refers to the lack of essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development.
The research which started in 2020, is being conducted by Government through the Food and Nutrition Council (FNC) working with Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, National University of Science and Technology, Chinhoyi University of Science and Technology, Abitare University and Sheffield University in the United Kingdom.
It is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council from the UK to the tune of US$1,3 million.
Under the project, Government is buying the mopane worms from Gwanda communities for US$25 a bucket. The programme is targeting two tonnes of mopane worms.
In an interview, project leader Dr Lesley Macheka, who is the director of information and technology transfer at Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, said the porridge has been submitted to the Ministry of Health and Child Care for certification while they were also in the process of mobilising mopane worms.
He said the mopane worms will be milled and mixed with small grains.
“The goal of the ‘insects 4 nutrition programme’ is to address micro nutrient deficiency in children using insects and our focus for now is mopane worms. About 83 percent of our population consume mopane worms and they are very rich in protein and micro nutrients.
“We have developed a porridge we mixed with traditional grains and mopane worms and is meant to feed pupils between the ages of seven and 11 years this coming term,” he said.
Dr Macheka said they were going through the process of approval of the porridge by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“We want to make sure that nutritionally it is up to standard. We are very confident that the porridge will be certified because all our lab analysis point to it being a nutritious and safe product,” he said.
Dr Macheka said the programme sought to utilise available local resources to address micro nutrient deficiency in children. He said traditionally communities have been making porridge from mopane worms, which are mixed with other ingredients but without scientific evidence.
He said in the long run they will move to incorporate other insects, which are delicacies in other areas. He said termites are common in Bikita.
On paper Dr Macheka said they have proved that mopane worm porridge meets the daily nutrient requirements for a school going child and now they want practical proof.
“From literature findings, mopane worms are rich in nutrients, but we have to keep in mind that our bodies don’t observe everything so we want to find evidence. We are positive that we will get good results though. We want to shift from the traditional way of school feeding programmes where they use imported corn soya beans to prepare porridge,” Dr Macheka said.
He said the objective was to utilise local resources so that with time such eating habits are adopted by households.
“Edible insects and traditional grains are rich in nutrients and we want to encourage their consumption.
“If this research is successful then together with the Food and Nutrition Council are going to advocate for such policies where we use local available resources and traditional foods to enhance nutrition at household level,” said Dr Macheka.
He said a team has been deployed to Gwanda where they are buying mopane worms that have been collected by villagers.
The next phase will be drying the mopane worms and milling them into powder and mixing them with small grains to produce the porridge in preparation for the school feeding programme.
Dr Macheka said villagers had been trained on proper harvesting of mopane worms.
“We will start by feeding children in Gwanda as mopane worms are part of their diet. We will then take some blood samples and measure the nutrition status of those children in order to find evidence whether mopane worms can indeed enhance nutrition of the children,” he said.
Dr Macheka said they had also embarked on a project to semi domesticate mopane worms and are in the process of constructing a mopane worm rearing facility in Ward 21 in Gwanda.
The mopane worms will be housed in an enclosed area in order to keep out predators such as birds that attack mopane worms or the eggs.
This is being done in a bid to improve production of mopane worms.
He said a similar structure has been constructed in Marange in Manicaland and communities must replicate the same model to maximise mopane worm production. – @DubeMatutu.