This matters a great deal to me because it's one of the most important concerns for the people I work with in Burkina Faso.
Although, when I say 'food security' I think I probably mean 'financial security', and I believe it's crucial to realise what this really means and the the toll that it takes. As far as I understand from the people I've spoken to and shared my life with during fieldwork - It's not just about hunger. It's about the anxiety that comes from having to decide whether to send your child to school or get them to work in the fields so you have a better harvest next year. It's about the exhaustion of having to walk several kilometres to a mill laden with grain, and walk back with your milled grain, collecting dry wood as you go, to light the fire over which you'll cook the day's meal. It's about the resignation you feel when you decide that yes, you'll use agrochemicals, because then you know you'll get a good harvest this year - even though you've been told by friends that the soils will suffer as a result and your harvests will get poorer and poorer.
Anyway! Let's set this - and the topic of caterpillars and food security - in a broader context:
The image above sets the background to our study.
We chose a mixed methods approach to this question, and here's a summary of those methods:
The results are being prepared for submission for peer-reviewed publication, so I wont include them in full here. But, here are our main findings:
- During caterpillar season, people collect and eat a lot of caterpillars!
- Overall protein consumption is significantly higher during caterpillar season
- During caterpillar season, women perceive their households to be more food secure
Exciting stuff! And we've more data to analyse, so there's more to come...based on the above findings and the data that support them, we came to the following conclusion:
People in this region look forward to caterpillar season as a time of relative prosperity.
Caterpillars are widely appreciated as food: many say that caterpillars are their ‘favourite meat’.
We found that caterpillars make a significant seasonal contribution to food security among
women in rural southwestern Burkina Faso, both as a source of income and a source of food.
We hope that in fostering a greater understanding of the caterpillars – their importance to people,
their place in the diet, their ecology and their impact on the wider ecosystem – this research
project will support those who collect, eat and sell them.
I hope this has been an interesting read and please do be in touch if you've any questions or comments. Finally and importantly, a huge thank you to all who helped with this project (below - and I must add: all credit to Eric Carle for the beautiful illustrations, taken straight from The Very Hungry Caterpillar), and, of course, the references cited!