Student - June 4, 2009


A kind of porridge made from ground termites and flour. Enough to make a lot of Europeans gag, but this idea from four Wageningen students might be a solution to hunger in Zimbabwe. The Student Association of the Institute of Food Technologists thinks there’s something in it, and the group is through to the final of the competition for the best idea for helping developing countries.

It sounds simple. Mix a local grain with finely ground termites. And since termites are only available in mass quantities in the rainy season, you use a fermentation process so they will keep a long time. So simple, yet no one has thought of it before. ‘People haven’t been using insects very long in food technology’, says finalist Harmke Klunder, ‘even though they are a source of protein’. She’s not afraid that Africans won’t want to eat the termites: ‘They are a delicacy there.’ The grain the group has chosen is sorghum. ‘Sorghum is a local crop that is adapted to a dry climate. Maize, for example, needs much more water.’

The idea was worked out by an international group of students of Food Safety and Food technology. ‘I got an email from the course director, drawing our attention to the competition run by the student group in the Institute of Food Technologists. They were looking for good ideas for helping developing countries to make progress. With her director’s help the Dutch student got an international group together, with students from Mexico, Poland and Turkey. ‘I hardly knew them, yet it went very smoothly. We’ve all put something into the idea. I suggested adding insects, someone else came up with the idea that sorghum would be better than maize.’

The idea got through to the final, but only one person was sponsored to present it in California. ‘Then we looked for funding. It wasn’t too difficult actually. In no time we had a grant from the Wageningen University Fund and the LEB fund.’ So next week the whole team will be off to the final, to compete with two other teams for the first place. They are a little doubtful about the outcome. ‘Our idea is still only on paper. We haven’t been able to conduct any practical trials with fermenting insects.’