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  • Termites are an important food and income source for many SA families, a new academic study has found.
  • Edible termites are rich in proteins, fats, vitamins, and many essential minerals.
  • One cup of termites, which is priced at R20, can feed three people. 
  • Termite harvesters can earn up to almost R18,000 a year.

A new study by researchers from the University of Witwatersrand shows that edible termites, which are rich in proteins, fats, vitamins and many essential mineral nutrients, are a vital food and income source for many poor South Africans.

The going price for a 300ml cup of fried termites, which can feed a family of three, is R20.

A kilogram of termites, that can feed 15, sells for R100. 

Professor Frances Duncan, from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Shandukani Netshifhefhe, a PhD student, surveyed people from 48 villages in the Vhembe District in Limpopo. Their research was published in the South African Journal of Science

The researchers found that local entrepreneurs earned up to almost R18,000 a year to harvest and prepare the termites. The harvesters are mostly women over the age of 60, who are sometimes accompanied by children.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Only three termite species are consumed: soldiers of Macrotermes falciger (89.90%); M. natalensis (8.08%); and M. michaelseni (2.02%).

The women use size, taste and colour of termites as well as the mound type and size to identify the species.

They use shoots of grass, moistened with saliva, and put them into openings to collect the termites. They farm the mounds almost daily and protect the nests.

More than three-quarters of respondents prefer to eat their termites fried. Others eat them fresh from the termite mound, or dried and then cooked with maize meal porridge and a tomato and onion sauce. Dried termites can also be eaten as a snack.

If you are brave enough, you can taste termites at the Yebo Gogga exhibition in Johannesburg at Wits, taking place from 9 May to 13 May this year.

Studies have been conducted on edible termites in many African countries, yet comparatively little is known about edible termites in South Africa, the researchers said.

"The results of this study showed that edible termites contribute significantly to the livelihoods of many rural families and this indigenous knowledge should be passed on to younger generations."

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