Save a forest by fighting protein deficiency

by Conservation through Poverty Alleviation, Int
Vetted
Matthew and Richard With Wood for the Moth Garden
Matthew and Richard With Wood for the Moth Garden

It’s that time of year! With the expected emergence of the adult Oryctes beetles and Fulgoridae looming near, the SEPALI team is breaking ground on a new enclosure. Led by volunteer, Matthew, the structure will be built on the SEPALI demonstration site and will serve as an insectary and moth rearing house for the project.

Wait, don’t you already have a moth garden? Yes, we did. You may have seen pictures of the previous moth garden in our newsletters: a basketball court-sized enclosure with native plants, insects and a small pond. Unfortunately, the garden was damaged in a cyclone last winter and eventually fell victim to thievery due to the highly coveted fishing nets that were used in construction. Many of the plants are still there, but the enclosure has since been removed.

Learning from our mistakes, the new garden will include upgrades to ensure longevity. First, treated lumber will be used for construction instead of bamboo, which quickly degrades in Maroantsetra due to weather conditions and native bamboo-boring insects. The walls and ceiling of the new garden will be made of industrial-grade agricultural netting, which should be more resistant to sun damage than the previous fishing nets. Finally, the nets will be removable so that they can be safely stored during cyclone season (December through March) and returned to the structure each spring. This will also allow a period when natural pollinators and animals typically too large for the pore-size will be able to enter the enclosure and access the plants.

Matthew and SEPALI team members Lava and Richard, are hoping to have the project completed by late October. Once constructed, a care-taker and his family will move into the new SEPALI watchman’s house to help keep the demonstration site safe and productive.

A Tiny Golden Cocoon

One of the many goals of the new enclosure is to give the SEPALI team a place to rear silk moths and other insects including water bugs, dragon flies and rhinoceros beetles. Rhinoceros beetles (Oryctes) in particular have been a source of curiosity for the SEPALI staff in recent months. While the team was investigating their potential as a protein source, a recent survey revealed instead the secret life of parasitic wasp larvae.

The cycle begins when a small, female wasp with a black body and dark, shiny wings lays a single egg on the abdomen of an Oryctes beetle larva. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva emerges and feeds on the beetle larva for a period of about two weeks. By the time the Oryctes larva dies, the wasp larva is mature enough to spin a cocoon. (Wasps too can spin cocoons!) The result is a tiny, golden, four-layered cocoon where the wasp will complete its transformation into an adult.

While the cocoon is likely too small to do anything productive with, it is a source of fascination for a team that studies all-things-silk. Hopefully the new enclosure will help us answer more questions about the lifecycles, predators, and protection of our insect friends.

Beginnings: Building the Moth Garden
Beginnings: Building the Moth Garden
Predatory Wasps
Predatory Wasps
Wasp Larva Feeding on Beetle Larva
Wasp Larva Feeding on Beetle Larva
Golden Wasp Cocoons
Golden Wasp Cocoons
Separated Four-Layer Cocoon
Separated Four-Layer Cocoon
Water Lillie for making dyes
Water Lillie for making dyes

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!

Dyeing the cocoons
Dyeing the cocoons
Yellow roots of the Azine tree
Yellow roots of the Azine tree
Red Bark from the Nato tree
Red Bark from the Nato tree
Cocoon samples from each dye
Cocoon samples from each dye
Adult Giant Water Bugs
Adult Giant Water Bugs

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.

Fulgoridae Insects
Fulgoridae Insects
Fenozara Justin
Fenozara Justin's Farm
Setting up Rearing Techniques for Water Bugs
Setting up Rearing Techniques for Water Bugs
Fried Water Bug Snacks in Thailand
Fried Water Bug Snacks in Thailand
Fenozara Justin, teaching us to rear  Fulgoridae
Fenozara Justin, teaching us to rear Fulgoridae

"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!

Lantern bugs - instars and molt skins
Lantern bugs - instars and molt skins
A new insect rearing house for food insects!
A new insect rearing house for food insects!

Links:

SEPALI Lead Farmers share beetle kabobs
SEPALI Lead Farmers share beetle kabobs

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. 

SEPALI staff demonstrates beetle rearing beds
SEPALI staff demonstrates beetle rearing beds
Beetle life cycle
Beetle life cycle
Beetle rearing training
Beetle rearing training
Mushroom production at SEPALI demonstration site
Mushroom production at SEPALI demonstration site
Vegetable garden training
Vegetable garden training
 

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Organization Information

Conservation through Poverty Alleviation, Int

Location: Walla Walla, WA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.cpali.org
Project Leader:
Kerry O'Neill
Assistant director
Lincoln, Massachusetts United States
$21,572 raised of $25,000 goal
 
210 donations
$3,428 to go
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