It’s not going to be easy, but having received our initial funding from the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, we’re determined to give it a go.
Our first steps are to further our understanding of the caterpillars’ only food source – the leaves of the shea tree – and to try breeding the adult moths in a controlled environment.
And these are two of the reasons that I’m here in Burkina Faso at the moment.
I’m collecting solvent samples from the leaves, which we’ll use to analyse the compounds on the leaf surface that may signal to the caterpillars that they are good to eat. We need to know a lot more about the leaves, because these picky caterpillars eat absolutely nothing else. Previous experiments have shown that when their only option is a different leaf species, they starve to death.
These are some of the questions I’ll be looking at.
I’m apprehensive about asking questions on food security. I worry about how to do so without appearing patronizing, condescending or naïve. And I worry about the answers I’ll be hearing, and how it feels to be the person giving those answers.
If you’re reading this and have any insights or advice, particularly from personal experience (I'm using HFIAS questions, which were also used in this recent article looking at caterpillars and food security in South Africa), please do email me or leave a message below, I’d love to hear from you.