The bugs are sleeping, but the SEPALI team is not. Due to the arrival of the chillier winter months in Madagascar (yes, Madagascar has a winter), insect rearing has been slow while the larvae develop in their sanctuaries. The giant water bugs are, well, giant. They are still in their adult phase and the team is patiently waiting for them to mate and lay eggs. The dragonfly larvae (nymphs) are still swimming around in their little habitats working on growing big enough to look edible.
In the meantime, the SEPALI staff are busying themselves with silk production and a new project: natural dyes. In an effort to make a natural black dye to fulfil a set of unusual silk orders, the team succeeded in making dark blue, gray, burnt orange, and brown. Some of their “mistakes” actually turned out to be quite beautiful and the solitary quest for black dye has turned into a fascinating experiment featuring many different species of plants.
The first attempt was conducted with local water lilies. The SEPALI team harvested and boiled down a batch of lilies until the water was a deep-red color. Using vinegar as a fixer, the cocoons were soaked in the dye until they began to turn a light gray-blue color. In an attempt to take the color a little further, the team tried soda ash as a fixer for round two and achieved a much deeper-blue, nearly black in appearance.
Over the past couple of months, the experiments have expanded to include many species of plants including onion skins, yellow Azine tree roots, red Nato tree bark, and a vine called Engitra. And the most surprising to us? The bright, burnt-orange cocoon was dyed with just a couple of onion skins, resulting in a surprisingly vivid color! You can see the plants and corresponding results in the pictures below.
We’ll keep you posted in the next couple of weeks with updates on dyes and textiles and hopefully our insect-pets will show their little faces again soon!
The latest trend in western "foodie" culture is old news to most of the rest of world. Across the Americas, Asia and Africa, eating insects has long been an established practice. And for good reason: when examining input and outputs, insects are one of the most cost-effective protein sources in the world. While cows require 8g of food for every 1g of weight gain, many insects require less than 2g of food for the same weight gain.
Rising populations, especially in developing nations, are putting enormous strain on the existing protein-production systems, resulting in protein-deficiency related issues. Madagascar is no exception. With 23 million people and a steady growth rate among the highest in Africa, protein-production systems in Madagascar are already inadequate.
The SEPALI team in Madagascar is working hard to change that. In our particularly isolated region, insect consumption is already present, but it is considered a somewhat desperate measure and lacks a formal market. The SEPALI team is hoping to turn the tide in Maroantsetra by introducing a viable business model for insect protein production.
After discovering the Orychtes beetle in 2014, the team has been actively rearing the beetle larvae in the broken-down Talandoha branches (a by-product of the silk production process). "We must wait for several months before checking the progress of the rearing because the life cycle of the Orychtes beetles is very long," says Director, Mamy Ratsimbazafy.
Our second discovery of edible insects was the Fulgoridae, Hemiptera, featured in the previous report. This species was discovered in November by SEPALI farmer, Fenozara Justin, who was interested in pioneering the project and had eaten the insect as a child. So far in 2015, Fenozara Justin has planted over 200 host plants of for this species and is working closely with the SEPALI staff to define rearing methods. The Fulgoridae feeds on a type of bean vine that many farmers grow on their farm for food. In the future, if SEPALI is able to master the technical rearing methods for this species, farmers will be able to harvest not only the beans, but also the insects for protein resources.
Our biggest, scariest, latest discovery is a species of giant water bug that has graced the SEPALI demonstration site frequently with its presence. The scientific name is Leptocerus, of the family Belostomatidae (order Heteroptera). The giant water bugs are caught during the night with light traps that the SEPALI team frequently uses to monitor native species in the area. Leptocerus are voracious predators, feeding on worms, fish, snails and other insects and are capable of delivering a bite to humans, albeit a non-dangerous one. The large bug, however, is also a temptingly rich protein snack. In fact, these giant water bugs are already a popular food source in Thailand. In the weeks to come, the SEPALI team will be building special rearing equipment to allow them to study the life cycle of this species and mastering the technical rearing methods to pass on to farmers when the time is right.
"The family Fulgoridae is a large group of hemipteran insects, especially abundant and diverse in the tropics, containing over 125 genera worldwide. They are mostly of moderate to large size, many with a superficial resemblance to Lepidoptera due to their brilliant and varied coloration. Various genera and species (especially the genera Fulgora and Pyrops) are sometimes referred to as lanternflies or lanthorn flies, though they do not emit light." - Wikipedia
But what Wiki doesn't tell you is that SEPALI Madagascar farmers find them a tasty treat that they are planning to raise in 2015! Last team meeting the farmers finally 'fessed-up' to eating insects since they were kids. Our most ardent denier, Fenozaro Justing, is now our most ardent rearer! Fenozaro is starting off the New Year teaching the SEPALI Madagascar team how to rear these pretty, little insects that apparently are quite tasty. In the picture below you can see them in a few of their growth stages. The Fulgoridae are in the group of insects that are called hemimetabolous. Unlike the Holometabolous insects like the silk moths (who have a caterpillar, pupa and adult stage) each life stage of the hemimetabolous insects looks like a tiny adult. While SEPALI Madagascar can not yet give you a scientific name for the genus, species and host plant, they will be able to in the future thanks to the help our Fenozaro Justin (who is also a star caterpillar farmer).
To learn more about the biology of the Fulgoridae, Bertrand and Chuli have built a new insect rearing house. The table in the back holds rhinocerous beetle larvae but there is plenty of room for Fulgoriade as well.
Thank you for all the assistance you have given CPALI and SEPALI Madagascar for helping us to bring our insect rearing program to reality. We know that with the revealed interest and help of the whole team (farmers, artisans) we will be able to make insects for protein a viable (and tasty) alternative to bushmeat.
Best wishes for 2015!
At a recent meeting with SEPALI Lead Farmers, team members prepared a delicious surprise: insect shish kabobs! After months of research, this exciting event marks the first time that the insect rearing program has been formally introduced to our farmer members. And the best part? They loved it!
SEPALI team members have been gradually paving the way for the introduction of an insect protein program. Since late 2013, the team has been hard at work evaluating different species of silkworm pupae and other insects for their rearing potential, nutritional value, and rearing techniques.
While eating insects is old news to many of our SEPALI farmers, the idea of actively rearing them is a new concept. Traditionally considered a “poor man’s food”, insects will have prejudices to surmount in the community, but rampant protein deficiency in the region is putting pressure on families to innovate. Insect protein may offer a solution.
One species that has become particularly interesting to the SEPALI team is the Orcytes beetle. Often found colonizing the trunk of the famous “Ravinala” or “traveler’s tree” in Madagascar, this beetle is easy to rear and yields large numbers of protein-rich pupae. Over the past few months, SEPALI staff have been working to master the rearing techniques for this particular beetle. Finally, in late September, the whole production was ready for the farmers.
On September 15, 2014, SEPALI Lead Farmers gathered at the demonstration site for a tri-annual meeting and were surprised to find insects on the menu. Initially skeptical of the "poor man's food", SEPALI farmers gave the suspicious-looking kabobs a fair chance and found the recipe to be "surprisingly delicious". In fact, sharing a meal of protein-rich beetles and vegetables from the SEPALI demonstration site seemed to energize the whole group. During the session, lead farmers enthusiastically explored the insect rearing beds at the demonstration site, toured thriving vegetable gardens and witnessed active mushroom cultivation on silkworm host trees. "I understand now how much SEPALI is trying to offer", said Fenozara Justin, a leading cocoon producer with the SEPALI program. "I would like to be involved in these new programs."
The overwhelmingly positive response from farmer members is encouraging for the SEPALI team. In the coming months, the team will shift its focus to the farmers and begin insect rearing trainings in the communities. With a little luck and a lot of insects, SEPALI farmers may be able to lead the charge against protein deficiency in Maroantsetra.
Insect farming, not just collecting, will be key to insuring the sustainability of this food source. This month, the CPALI team will be visiting Tiny Farms, a company selling small, “do it yourself” insect rearing kits for consumption. CPALI will serve as the company’s contact for Madagascar and in return, Tiny Farms will help CPALI adapt insect rearing equipment to native insects in Madagascar. Together, the team hopes to introduce a protein-rich species to the subsistence farmers' groups working with our project to eat or sell in order to combat protein deficiency in the region.
Meanwhile, the SEPALI team in Madagascar has been pushing forward on their research with moth pupae for protein and beetle larvae. The team has identified a species of edible larvae that is easy to rear and rich in protein. Last month, the team experimentally reared 35 larvae to maturity in order to document the lifecycle of the species. In the final stages of development, the larvae make a nest in the sandy soil (pictured below) and emerge as a beetle. While the species is promising, the life cycle takes more than a month. SEPALI continues to search for a species that matures faster in order to be a viable food source.
One event that SEPALI will take advantage of in the coming week is National Moth Week. National moth week celebrates moths around the world and we encourage other organizations and individuals to host "mothing" events! The hardest part is finding a spot that is dark (away from home and street lamps), but visible from many directions - Simply hang a bed sheet with a light over it (battery powered lights will allow you to visit darker areas). The light will attract many kinds of insects (an added plus!) as well as moths. The website below, National Moth Week, has tons of great resources and new information - check it out!
Many of the big silk moths, like the ones that CPALI studies, don't fly until the very late evening but if you are in the US and very lucky, you might see a luna moth - it's the right time of year. While the Moth Week event is focused in the US and not an ideal time of year for moths in Madagascar, the SEPALI team is interested in participating and looking forward to observing the July population of moths in Northeast Madagascar. The team hopes to identify species of moths and nocturnal insects that could be viable for protein sources. From July 19th to the 27th, the SEPALI team will set up a moth light and make nightly observations of the fuzzy visitors. Follow along on facebook and twitter to see how it goes!
Donate today and increase your impact! Today, on July 16, 2014, Global Giving will be matching donations to our organization by 50%. That means if you give $100, we get an extra $50. Join us today and help secure a better future for Malagasy farmers!
While the CPALI/SEPALI team is working to introduce insects as an alternative source of protein, similar efforts are being made right here in the US and Europe. Did you know that insect food, while only a budding industry in the US and Europe is extremely important in Asia and Africa? Below is a link to a BBC documentary on insects eaten in Thailand.
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