The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE, branded as icipe) is an international scientific research institute that has the objective to research and develop alternative and environmentally friendly pest management strategies that are both affordable and accessible. Part 2 in this series of 2: Club Africa asked icipe’s Director General and CEO, Segenet Kelemu, about the five ways that her insect researchers can help to boost Africa’s agriculture and health potential.
1. Insects for food and feed
icipe is one of the few leading research organisations working on edible insects and developing feed resources.
Currently at least 2 billion people consume more than 2,000 insect species (about 500 documented edible insect species in Africa) in the world, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Insects are ubiquitous, reproduce quickly, have high growth, feed conversion rates with low environmental impact and are nutritious. In addition, insects are increasingly being considered as alternative sources of protein in feed for livestock, in particular fish and poultry. They are valuable sources of proteins, minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins essential for human and livestock development.
For example, for both fish and poultry, a disproportionate cost of production is feed, particularly protein. Annually approximately one-third of the global fish caught, are used to produce fishmeal for aqua-feeds, which is totally unsustainable. An estimated 70% of animal feed ingredient’s costs is protein-based. Developing sustainable aqua- and poultry feeds with ingredients that provide cost effective and sustainable alternatives to wild-harvested fishmeal or crop protein sources, while also increasing nutritional benefits to consumers is critical to improving production in a sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.
2. Bees and bee health
icipe fully recognizes the value of bees and other pollinators for a healthy and productive agricultural production systems. We believe that pollinators should be taken as parts of agricultural input components in order to boost productivity. We work on the health and diversity of bees and other pollinators. In recognition for our work on this, icipe was officially designated as an OIE Collaborating Centre for Bee Health in Africa by OIE – World Organisation for Animal Health (the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide).
3. Endosymbionts as anti-malaria strategy
Endosymbionts are microorganisms that reside within cells or tissues of other living organisms and they play several functions and roles. Transmission-blocking strategies using endosymbionts for control of insect vectors have shown promise for arboviral diseases (e.g. dengue). Despite the tremendous progress made in reducing malaria in Africa, malaria still is a major killer that icipe, together with other committed Global and Continental partners, is working hard to eradicate. One of the strategies we use is endosymbionts to control insect vector-borne parasites (e.g. Plasmodium). icipe’s scientists have developed a pipeline to screen mosquito-associated microbes for the capacity to block the transmission of human diseases. We have isolated and identified several unique vertically transmitted endosymbiotic microbes including Spiroplasma and Microsporidia and found to demonstrate promise as a strategy to decrease mosquito vector competency. This discovery is important in the long-term vision to develop endosymbiotic microbes as a strategy to prevent Anopheles mosquitoes from transmitting the malaria parasite.
4. Addressing the Tsetse fly challenge.
In a continent where over two-thirds of the population depends on livestock for everyday survival, lack of adequate and high-quality fodder, as well as vectors that transmit debilitating or fatal diseases to the animals, are major obstacles. Over the years, icipe has developed a variety of technologies and strategies that have proven effective in addressing these challenges.
5. FAW and Silk worms
The Fall armyworm and other invasive pests hold some of the major threats to Africa’s food production system. icipe and partners are developing a comprehensive integrated pest management systems and early detection and halting capabilities across the continent before these pests cause major havoc. Also, Silk worms are among the many beneficial insects, and icipe works on a range of silk worm strains for production and support of emerging African silk industries.