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Reintroducing edible caterpillars

How habitat restoration can improve food security and livelihoods

Violet Ruria 2021

onathan cleans his harvest of caterpillars on the banks of the Lasa River.

Jonathan cleans his harvest of caterpillars on the banks of the Lasa River. Photo: The Salvation Army

Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo clean caterpillars harvested from the trees surrounding their village.

From: Insects – Footsteps 115

Why insects are important and how we can look after and benefit from them

In the Kongo Central province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), edible caterpillars are a delicacy and have been harvested for generations. They are rich in high‑quality proteins, fats and micronutrients and they can be sold in the market for a profit.

However, many of the trees and plants that the caterpillars need to survive have been cleared due to timber extraction, slash-and-burn agriculture and charcoal production. Caterpillar numbers have fallen and some species have disappeared completely. Communities that used to rely on caterpillars and other forest products for food and income are experiencing high levels of adult and child malnutrition.

To address this challenge, The Salvation Army in DRC is partnering with local organisation Songa Nzila to increase the availability of caterpillars through reforestation and caterpillar farming. Caterpillars are cheap to produce and everyone can participate in breeding and rearing them including women, children and people with disabilities.

New skills

With support from village elders, each community establishes a Caterpillar Management Committee. These committees learn how to breed caterpillars and grow the trees that the insects need for food and protection. The committee members then pass on these skills to others in their communities.

Children enjoying getting involved in a project to reintroduce edible caterpillars.

The children enjoy getting involved in every aspect of the project. Photo: The Salvation Army

To involve the next generation, tree nurseries are established in local primary schools. Each contains more than 3,000 plants made up of seven species of caterpillar food trees. As the pupils and teachers look after the seedlings they learn about the importance of both trees and caterpillars.

The seedlings are distributed to the communities to plant. Once established, the trees attract different species of moth to lay their eggs, which eventually produce caterpillars.

Some species of moth have not been seen in the communities for a long time. To help reintroduce them a breeding laboratory has been established in the area using only native species. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae are transferred to the trees in the communities.

Through cooking demonstrations, song and drama, people are taught how to cook the caterpillars in a way that maintains both taste and nutrients. This includes special recipes for infants and young children.

Many benefits

Kusongi Basega has recently joined the caterpillar project. Reflecting on the progress she has made so far, she says, ‘At first glance nothing is visible, but we are seeing a gradual availability of delicious edible caterpillars close to our home.’

‘As the pupils and teachers look after the seedlings they learn about the importance of both trees and caterpillars.’

Kusongi works as a farmer and sells cassava in the local market to provide for her six children. She is hoping that soon she will be able to sell caterpillars as well to increase her income.

‘Malnutrition will soon be a thing of the past in our village,’ she says.

  Violet Ruria

Violet Ruria works with The Salvation Army as a Programme Advisor on sustainable livelihood development.

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