For many people in western Kenya, the rainy season used to bring joy with the uninterrupted supply of a natural delicacy from termites, popularly known as chiswa.
It was a normal thing to be greeted with scenes of small, blanket-covered tents standing on sticks in the fields with boys and women busy trapping and harvesting the termites.
But that is no longer the case.
The termites, which scientists say are high in protein and calcium, are no longer readily available.
Locals who would catch the termites and roam the homesteads, pubs, and markets are now forced to go all the way to Lodwar in Turkana and West Pokot to look for them.
Conservationists attribute this to chemicals that were sprayed on plants that saw these termites flee.
Supply from Lodwar
Millicent Wafula, a mother of four who lives in Bungoma, is disappointed with the new turn of events.
“We were forced to get these termites all the way from Lodwar from people who took them in trucks and sold them to us after people killed the termites in this region with chemicals after growing sugar cane,” says one disappointed Mrs. Wafula.
Ms. Wafula, who used to build the tents to collect the termites herself, now has to pay 100 Sh. pay for a cup of the insects which she then sells for a profit of Sh50. But she quickly adds that if she could still catch the termites herself, she would get more.
Mr. Ali Juma Wekite, born in Samoya in Bungoma in 1953, feels an important part of his history has been lost.
“My grandmother would say that these termites are remedies and that if we eat them, we won’t get sick. And we loved it. We enjoyed helping catch this delicacy. But that’s not anymore ”, says Mr. Wekite.
The termites were trapped in a small tent that was set up and covered with blankets, leaving a small opening that leads to a hole dug at the opening that the termites will slide into.
The termites are often fried or sun-dried and are usually eaten with ugali.
A 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Fao) estimated that more than 2.5 billion people on the planet eat various insects, even though more people were asked to feed on them.
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Grasshoppers are the most consumed insects on earth, followed by termites, the 2013 report said.
“Insects are still viewed as pests by a large majority of people, although the literature increasingly points to their valuable role in the diets of humans and animals,” says Fao in the 2013 study.
At Bungoma, Mr. Alex Owiti and Mr. Harrison Barasa of Webuye say the termite disappearance is a serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
There are several types of Chiswa in the local dialect, with the Chiswa Chisi being the smallest and known for its black color.
These can usually be seen from around 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. from September to December.
Then there are the brown chinunda, which appear after 5 p.m. between December and February.
The Kanabuli are blackish and also appear between December and February between 6pm and 7pm.
The Khamakhubwe are brownish and appear after the Kanabuli season, although they are not eaten. Chinome, black in color, usually appear when it rains, mostly between June and October, while the chindawa, also black, can be seen between April and May.
Then there are the kamaresi, which are dark brown and the largest of them all. They appear at night between April and June and are captured with light that attracts them.