BORNO, NIGERIA: For over two decades, grasshoppers have become snacks in Nigeria's northeast state of Borno, which has been under the attacks and destruction of the deadly jihadist group, Boko Haram, since 2009.
Its consumption started when "Two women, Maman Mary and Maman Yan biyu, started the trade while roasting it on a makeshift lantern with a thread zooming out of a tin top," Jonathan Maina, chairman of the National Grasshopper Traders Association of Nigeria or NGTAN told Prime Progress in Maiduguri, Borno's capital.
Grasshopper consumption has become widely accepted in the state, and these women have sponsored their children to the university with the proceeds of their grasshopper business.
Maina said thousands of people are now in the grasshopper trading with a history that spans decades.
"I can't state the exact year or date as I also came and met the trade. Today we have about 5000 members; women are the majority as they are the ones who are doing the retail part," he said.
Most women in this trade, Maina maintained, are either divorced, widowed, unmarried, or entirely dependent on it for their livelihood.
Some orphans have joined the trade too, and some are paying for their tertiary education, helping their families, Maina added.
He said Nigerian grasshopper traders now supply grasshoppers in 20 Nigerian states and then to Cameroon, Chad, Niger republic, and more.
"We are even exporting to Saudi Arabia and Ghana as it's a big trade now," said Maina.
As displaced persons return to their original places and new resettlement areas increase in Borno, Maina has observed that grasshoppers are abundant in rural areas compared to two to three years back.
"People who are unable to farm are resorting to grasshopper picking as an alternative for survival," he said.
Besides, picking and trading grasshoppers in Borno and other parts of Nigeria reduce insect populations that typically destroy farmers' crops and farmlands.
Similar trend in Kenya
The Bug Picture, a company based in Kigali, Rwanda, has created an innovative alternative to tackle pests affecting farmers in Kenya. The company turns agricultural pests such as grasshoppers into protein and animal feed.
"With a wide range of backgrounds and experience, we have come together around the idea of insects for circular economy, regenerative agriculture and climate resilience for a positive and impactful change for our people (and beyond)," the company said in its website.
The traders of grasshoppers in Maiduguri and the Bug Picture have similar aspirations: to prevent locusts and pests from damaging farmlands and to turn an otherwise bad situation into an economic opportunity.