17 May 2013

Namibia: Mopani Worms Good for Your Health

Windhoek — Namibian dieticians are in agreement with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation recommendations this week that eating nutritious insects could help fight obesity.

And for Namibia they recommend mopani worms. In fact the Ministry of Trade and Industry is confident that mopani worms have the potential to become an export item, equal to indigenous products such as the marula oil and silk from moths found on the Acacia tree. "The mopani worm could follow the same route," opines Minister of Trade and Industry Calle Schlettwein when reached for comment this week. Schlettwein confirmed that his ministry is looking at all commodities to develop as consumer-ready products.

"[Eating] mopani worms is the same as eating meat," said dietician Celestine Mouton, adding that the worm receives its nutrients from plants, which may contain minerals needed by human beings. She says Namibia's insects and worm varieties such as the mopani worm help alleviate hunger and contain proteins that help with building muscle mass.

The FAO report said besides helping in the costly battle against obesity, which the World Health Organisation estimates has nearly doubled since 1980 and affects around 500 million people worldwide, the consumption of insects could to lead to commercial insect farming which is likely to be less land-dependent than traditional livestock farming and produce fewer greenhouse gases.

It could also provide business and export opportunities for poor people in developing countries, especially women, who are often responsible for collecting insects in rural communities, according to FAO. The report claims that nutritious insects contain the same amount of protein and minerals as meat and more healthy fats doctors recommend in balanced diets. The mopani worm also known as omagungu in Oshiwambo is a popular snack consumed by many Namibians.

Another local dietician, Samantha du Toit, confirmed that the mopani worm is a very good source of protein. "I do not know about other insects, but the mopani worm is safe," she said.

Du Toit emphasised that protein could be lacking in financially struggling households and identified the mopani worm as an alternative source of protein. Other minerals found in meat, such as iron and zinc can also be found in the mopani worm according to the dietician. Du Toit added that the mopani worm could contribute to a balanced meal when eaten with porridge. "It can help with obesity depending on the rest of your diet," she added.

Mouton said there is nothing wrong with eating mopani worms, especially in areas where food is scarce. "As long as the insect is not poisonous, it is not harmful for human consumption," said Mouton further.

This year the drought has reduced the annual mopani worm harvest substantially and vendors are now importing mopani worms from as far as Zimbabwe. "We did not harvest because of the dry weather," said Letisia Makili, a vendor at the Windhoek Singles Quarters open market. Harvested annually in April, none was collected this year. "We sell the mopani worms to most Africans who eat them and some tourists who visit Namibia," she said.

The United Nations report says more than 1 900 species of insects are eaten around the world, mainly in Africa and Asia, such as grasshoppers and termites. In addition, restaurants in Europe have started to offer insect-based dishes, presenting them to diners as exotic delicacies

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