Uncertainty grips locals as decade-old Tsiswa delicacy diminishes

A man collects edible termites commonly known as Tsiswa or Ng'wen. Uncertainty grips  Western region locals as the decade-old delicacy diminishes. 

Photo credit: File

They are called Ng’wen among the Luos and Tsiswa in the Luhya community.

The unique species of flying insects commonly referred to as White ants, has been a delicacy among the two communities for decades.

Some consume it alive by clipping their wings to immobilize them and swallow but others prefer to deep fry in hot cooking oil as a value addition, increasing its sweetness and palatability.

It is not bred in farms like bees, crickets or black soldier flies but is always available when they emerge from the ground during cold seasons.

In some instances, residents use sticks to hit the ground so as to lure and smoke them out to the ground surface.

The edible insects hibernate during dry seasons only to emerge during the cold season, to the joy of many in the Western region who turn them into food and others, good business since many people sell them in the local market.

The people from the Western region, however, may no longer enjoy this delicacy, if the ever-changing weather pattern is anything to go by.

At the moment, there is a shortage of ants in most parts of the region in what many now fear could be the start of the insects’ extinction.

Normally, the ants would fly out of the ground in the months of April and August, but this no longer happens.

This, locals and experts are blaming on unreliable weather patterns, forcing the insects to hibernate in the soil but others are pointing fingers to poor agricultural practices.

While some residents claim the scarcity of the insects is due to the application of chemical fertilisers in the soils that were used when planting sugarcane, researchers blame poor agricultural practices as the contributing factor to their extinction.

Mr Mohammed Musiko, 82, said he is not able to harvest as many of the ants as before.

"From my childhood to the 80s, white ants were in abundance. One would harvest several sacks and sell part of it while reserving stock for domestic consumption. But this is no more, our soils were polluted by chemical fertilisers like DAP that were used in cane farming," claimed Mr Musiko.

He said most of the areas that were known to have the ants in plenty are experiencing shortages.

Western is known for sugarcane farming and farmers apply fertilisers to their crops to increase productivity.

But Dr Winstone Wanjala, a researcher in agricultural products says the fertiliser has nothing to do with the extinction of the white ants. 

"The poor farming practices in the region are to blame for the diminishing of the insects. In the past, after harvesting maize and crops, farmers would leave the maize stalks and other green matter to rot in the farms. But today, they are used as feeds for animals while the dry matter is used as firewood," said Dr Wanjala.

Studies have shown that many species of creatures such as spiders, beetles, bees and ants have shrunk over time in relation to climate change.

Heat stress on the insects means higher metabolism and food demands along with a shorter lifespan.

According to the researchers, the green matter that was left in the farms would attract termites and white ants to feed on. This contributed to the establishment of termite nests, hence the plenty of white ants.

Clearing of bushes where the insects usually inhabit is said to have contributed to their scarcity.