Mopane Worm Marmite is on the Cards

Mopane worm marmite. Toast will never be the same again - at least if research follows through on current plans to diversify the number of products that can be made from mopane worms. Gone are the days when mopane worms were harvested from the bush, dried and cooked with vegetables to make a relish.

One can already buy mopane worms that have been deep fried and spiced to make an easy-to-eat snack, and work is underway investigating the possibilities of products like a mopane worm spread for bread, mopane worm powder to sprinkle onto food dishes, and other more upmarket versions of what was once a rural delicacy.

A new initiative based in Giyani is looking at opportunities for community-based natural resource management, and one of their focus areas is the sustainable harvesting of mopane worms. Mopane worms are the larvae of the mopane emperor moth, Imbrasia belina, and have been harvested and eaten by people in areas where mopane trees grow for centuries. Today, trade in mopane worms and other edible insects forms a multi-million rand industry, and tapping into this trade can provide communities with a sustainable cash income if properly managed.

At the Greater Giyani Natural Resources Development Programme, municipal employees have teamed up with University of Pretoria scientists and staff from the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research). The total project has received about R11.6 million for projects such as the manufacturing of mopane worm products, essential oils, beekeeping and oyster mushroom cultivation.

Traditional harvesting of mopane worms involves collecting the fat, squirming caterpillars, squeezing out their gut contents in the bush and then carting the rest of the worm back home. At the house the worms are par-boiled and then placed in the sun to dry.

In Giyani, mopane worms harvested in the veld can be brought to the Dzumeri Mopane Manufacturing Centre for processing and distribution to a wider market. This existing mopane worm factory is being revamped, and more processing equipment is being added. Construction of a second factory is also under consideration.

Through the natural resources development programme, Giyani community members who harvest the mopane worms are being trained in improving quality and hygiene of the product. Training will also ensure better sorting and grading of the worms, and storage and preservation is being looked at so the mopane worms can go from being a seasonal delicacy to a year-round treat.

Emphasis is also placed on ensuring harvesting is sustainable, as in some parts of southern Africa the demand for mopane worms has led to their local extinction. According to Jonathon Mndawe, programme manager, the project is targeting marginalized groups like women and youth as a means of empowerment. He says that the programme is working with provincial government to establish registered co-operatives that will create commercial enterprises.

Some research has been undertaken into creating mopane tree orchards, where mopane worms can be grown and harvested using farming techniques. Linking up the indigenous knowledge of the Giyani communities with the technical know-how of scientists, mopane worm marmite might be the next big thing to hit supermarket shelves, with the added benefit of placing a conservation value on mopane veld.

By Melissa Wray

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