Since 2016, village elders, mothers and schoolchildren in a small community in the Democratic Republic of Congo have worked to reintroduce a species of edible caterpillar to their local area. In the process they've boosted food security, nutrition, biodiversity, local relationships, job opportunities and more. In this episode, VIOLET RURIA from The Salvation Army tells the remarkable story of The Caterpillar Project.
Listen to the episode in full by clicking above, or read the highlights below.
The Importance Of Caterpillars In DRC
‘In DRC, the appearance of caterpillars signifies harmony between the communities and nature,’ explains Violet. ‘They believe that caterpillars are a gift to them for food, and it is one of the most highly rated delicacies. When a visitor is given caterpillars to eat it shows that they are really respected.’
However, the destruction of the trees and bushes where the caterpillars live means that in some places this important, traditional source of food has almost completely disappeared.
When Violet and her team were talking with a community in the Kongo Central province of DRC about malnutrition and hunger, one of the elders mentioned that they used to eat a lot of caterpillars. He said that now that the caterpillars were gone, their children were not as healthy.
Violet says, ‘They came up with the idea that they could walk to neighbouring communities, who still had edible caterpillars, and ask for some caterpillar eggs so they could reintroduce them into their own community.
‘In the process they realised that they needed to first plant the host trees, so that they could put the larvae on the trees when the eggs hatched. So they established tree nurseries and the children in the schools were given the role of looking after them.
‘The community created a small laboratory where they could hatch different species of caterpillar eggs, and this laboratory has since become a place where people come to learn about caterpillar farming.’
Each family has planted the types of trees and bushes that caterpillars like, and they are now rearing the insects close to their homes.
‘Women and children no longer have to walk long distances into the forests in search of caterpillars for their families - they have them right within their community,’ says Violet. ‘They are able to sell surplus caterpillars and they have been learning how to dry and preserve them.
‘Each person feels valued for the role they play in this project. They see themselves as a community working alongside nature and reaping the benefit and the gift from God of caterpillars. The reappearance of many caterpillar species means that they are bringing the natural biodiversity back to their community.
‘They want to see this project grow so it reaches other parts of DRC, and beyond.’
Want to know more about insects? Read the latest edition of Tearfund's Footsteps Magazine here.