At the quiet Namthoe Village, Kisumu County, Charles Odira has set up a unique farming enterprise.
Mr Odira has a thriving orchard, dairy and poultry units as well as various tree seedling nursery. However, the attention of Enterprise team is attracted to cricket farming, which is a unique activity in the county and across the country.
On his two-acre farm, the cricket pen is established near his former poultry structure.
The 10m by 6m cricket structure has six pens measuring 3m by 2m, housing about 180,000 crickets.
“Welcome to Mixa Farm,” Mr Odira says at the cricket section of the farm.
“It’s now five years since I first interacted with crickets rearing. I was motivated to venture into this kind of farming by the knowledge that crickets have higher protein content than beef and chicken.”
Alongside the six concrete pens, there are about 10 plastic crates with 1,500 crickets each.
Mr Odira says with savings of Sh140,000, he set up the cricket pen in 2019.
“We trapped wild crickets to start the project. We collected about 480 female and 160 male crickets that can comfortably fit into four crates,” he says.
Mixa Farm rears the Acheta species which experts say has more fatty acids and is more tasty. They are also rich in zinc, iron and calcium.
“We feed our crickets on vegetables, soy flour and water. They take about three months to mature,” says the farmer who has employed two workers.
In a society where people are hesitant to embrace insects as an alternative source of food, Mr Odira has ventured into value addition in a bid to make them more acceptable.
“We are aware that people have an issue consuming the crickets as they are. So we decided to add value by processing into flour,” says the father of two.
The process involves capturing mature cricket, blanching them before they are dried. This process gets rid of any bacteria present in the insects. Then they are finally dried in solar driers.
“We mill the crickets into fine powder. We use it as a key ingredient in making cakes, bread, cookies and waffles. The response from consumers is good,” explains Mr Odira.
The farmer sells a kilo of whole crickets at Sh1,000 while a kilo of those milled goes for Sh2,800.
“People are increasingly appreciating our products. Our customers keep coming for the bread made from cricket. It seems they have acknowledged the value of cricket to their health,” he says.
A 400g of bread goes for Sh50, waffles and cupcakes cost Sh25 each while cookies are priced at Sh10 apiece.
The enterprise makes the products based on orders, and sells them mainly to locals and in exhibitions.
Apart from the low uptake by consumers, bacterial infections can pose a big challenge for cricket farming.
Early this year, a bacterial infection almost wiped out the whole cricket population at the Mixa Farm.
“We had 210 crates, when the disease attacked we were really disoriented. We took samples to be analysed by experts,” Mr Odira says.
He adds that they have learned to apply antibiotics to keep the bacteria at bay.
Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture head Prof Matthew Dida says maintaining good hygiene is key when rearing crickets.
He says that farmers should watch out for predators such rats, ants, snakes when rearing crickets.
Mr Odira plans to process his cricket powder in large scale. He says he will achieve this by contracting farmers to supply the crickets.