After graduating from law school, one would have expected a young Canadian lady to storm her country’s lucrative legal environment to practice.
Twenty-nine year-old Shobhita Soor of McGill University chose a rather unusual path: feeding and breeding palm weevil larvae, known as Akokono in Ghana.
In 2013, together colleagues from McGill University, with whom she had formed Aspire Foods, won the Hult Prize of one million U.S. dollars.
The organization located at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has created jobs for young researchers as well as enriched nutrition in Ghana.
It is estimated 2 billion people in the world eat insects, as part of their diet.
Research shows insects have minimal impact on the environment compared to traditional forms of animal protein.
There is evidence insects can make valuable economic and nutritional contribution to the feed systems.
Aspire Foods breeds palm weevil larvae. However, insect supply and harvest are done manually, besides their seasonal availability.
“It’s hand- harvested and, therefore, expensive and we can’t be sure of the safety of the product because of insecticides. And you get supply at a certain point in the year,” Shobhita explains.
Aspire Foods, therefore, set out to build a technology to produce nutritious edible insects through resource efficient methods.
Since nutritional quality is influenced by feed, Shobhita and her company have made a proprietary feed to ensure a high-quality, high-nutrient product.
The farm has different chambers for each stage of insect breeding.
“Just after harvesting, we begin sorting out. About 2,400 pieces are selected to continue the product cycle,” said Field Manager, Nathaniel Sampson.
There are hurdles to clear in the face of logistics and supply chain issues since larvae are fresh and edible.
“There is a timeline to get to the market so we’re looking at processed and packaged products so distribution can be made to remote areas which are shelf-stable,” Shobhita noted.
So far, Aspire Foods has employed 100 Ghanaians who help with different aspects of production.
“When we started we were very small but we’ve tried so many things and now we’ve grown to be big.” Mr. Sampson stressed.
Nonetheless, Aspire Foods is happy Ghanaians are exploring the use of Akokono for variety of local dishes like Banku, Fufu, Jollof Rice and, especially, for Khebab.
“If you’re not comfortable seeing them alive when heating them, you can blanch them in hot water so they’re unconscious. And you have to turn them over and over so one side doesn’t burn and this should take, at most, 20 minutes,” said Farida Adam, Product Development Manager.
Aspire Foods is collaborating with different enterprises to bring the delicacy to the doorstep of Ghanaians.
In Kumasi, one is likely to find fresh Akokono on sale or served as part of a meal at A-Life Adum and Suame Market.
“Those days of going to palm trees to harvest Akokono are over. We’re here bringing back the traditional meat to Ghanaians. We’re, therefore, ready to serve the masses”, assures Sales and Marketing Manager, Felix Kwame Dankwah.