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Meet Maiduguri fried grasshopper sellers

In Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, it is common to see women displaying deep-fried locusts by the roadside, in motor parks and in marketplaces for…

In Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, it is common to see women displaying deep-fried locusts by the roadside, in motor parks and in marketplaces for sale to various kinds of consumers.

As early as 6am, these women, from various processing joints in Maiduguri, would go to the “fara” (grasshopper) market in droves to buy the raw insects, sometimes fresh, and other times, preserved.

These processors, who are mostly women, keep hundreds of youths that hunt the insect from bushes in Chad and the Niger Republic busy, just to provide a delicacy for their clients to munch.

More to this, it is a steady source of income that helps many households take care of families, despite providing a cheaper option for protein to adults and children that are ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Locally sourced, this crispy insect is becoming more popular in Nigeria and around the world, hence the need to increase its supply by reinforcing the value chain in Maiduguri.

Mary Adamu, a mother of five, said she had been in the business for over eight years and had been a major source of income that helps her educate all the children.

Mary said that in a good month she made at least N90,000 or even more from locust sales.

“I make N3,000 profit from the sales everyday. It may even be higher on a good day. I use the money to take good care of my needs, pay my children’s school fees and even help my relatives.

“I cannot count the number of women that are into this business because if you go round today you can count thousands of points where women are selling grasshoppers.

“It is women that dominate the aspect of frying the grasshoppers but men hunt it from the bush. So, we can’t say that the business is exclusively for women but a division of labour or trade. We complement each other,” she said.

Mary, who was swamped by buyers at the time of interview, said her customers outreach had extended to other states and federal capital Abuja.

“Some people buy in large quantities to send as gifts to friends and relatives in states like Katsina, Jos, Kano and even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

“In fact, I praise God for this favour because,without this business, most of us can’t survive the current economic hardship,” she said.

Speaking with nostalgia, she said she started the business with less than N3,000, but today, the business has been so lucrative that she depends on it to take care of the family.

“I never envisaged getting to where I am today when I started. I was buying a few measures of fresh hoppers when I joined the business, but now, I buy and fry bags that customers from all walks of life patronize,” she said.

At her roadside stand, Mary combines the fried grasshoppers with whitebait, saying it is deliberate to checkmate the season when grasshoppers cease from the market.

“Once it is July, up to August, grasshoppers will cease and the business will stop, that is why I combine it with fish to keep me in the business throughout the year. And it has been yielding little profits,” he said.

She called on women who are idle at home to find something to do to support the family, adding that husbands alone cannot take care of family needs.

She also decried that, unlike before, the grasshopper business is affected by the current cash crunch because catchers don’t accept any form of payment other than cash.

“Sometimes I would visit the market and come back empty handed. I used to fry a bag of grasshoppers, but the cash crunch is now forcing me to buy a few measures to fry and sell to retain my customers.

“A bag, which was sold at N18,000, has crashed to N11,000 because people don’t have the cash to buy. If the government can make cash available and control the price of cooking oil, we will operate within the profit margin,” she said.

Miss Rakiya Borno, another grasshopper seller at the School of Nursing junction, Mohammed Indimi Way, Maiduguri, said the business was profitable and had helped her rebuild her life after Boko Haram insurgency.

Rakiya, who has been in the fried grasshoppers business for more than three years, said it needed much of her daily time to carry out.

She said the grasshoppers came in seasons and they bought from young men who hunt it from the bush. “The locust catchers bring the hoppers to the junction of Shagari Low Cost, where we go to buy and fry for our customers,” she said.

She said that after buying, they would take it home, clean it in hot water and flavour it with spices, garlic powder, salt and seasoning, then dry it under the sun before frying.

“We deep-fry it in vegetable oil until it turns this crunchy, then sprinkle it with powdered chili mixed with seasoning to spice it more,” she said.

Apart from those in Maiduguri, people from different parts of Nigeria patronise this insect to supplement other traditional sources of protein like fish, meat and milk, which are more expensive to buy.

Today, wherever one travels, the next product people identify Maiduguri with, after the popular “Bama cap,” is the widely consumed insect “fara” (grasshoppers).

However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said grasshoppers have rich sources of fat, protein, vitamins, fibers and minerals.

According to research by the organisation, consumption of these edible insects is being promoted around the world, with scientists also saying they are an environmentally friendly answer to food insecurity in Nigeria and around the world.

“In addition, grasshoppers can be reared on organic side-streams (including human and animal waste) and can help reduce environmental contamination.

“Insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gasses and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, and they require significantly less land and water than cattle rearing.

“Compared with mammals and birds, insects may also pose less risk of transmitting zoonotic infections to humans, livestock and wildlife, although this topic requires further research.

“Insects are highly nutritious and healthy source of fat, protein, vitamin, fibre  and mineral content. The nutritional value of edible insects is highly variable because of the wide range of edible insect species.

“Even within the same group of species, nutritional value may differ, depending on the metamorphic stage of the insect, the habitat in which it lives, and its diet. For example, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish (and higher than in cattle and pigs), and the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms is similar to that in fish and meat,” the organisation stated.