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Zambia's Bug-Producing Region

By Scott Bowers

Street Vendor Wares, Zambia

At The Market, Zambia

Chipumi Caterpillars

Zambia is one of the better places in the world to eat insects. The whole gamut is here from termites to grasshoppers to caterpillars, and they can be considered a luxury food, especially when out of season.

Mpika, in the northeastern part of Zambia, is an important area for the production of caterpillars. According to an old man that I met while waiting for the bus, there are several seasonally common caterpillars. These caterpillars, or ifishi in the Bemba language, are, in order of size from smallest to largest: pambata, mpiki, ifikoso, finamasukui, tunakaiunga, mumpa, and chipumi.

The ifishi are collected, mainly by women, from trees upon which they feed. As with many insects, many caterpillars restrict their diet to only a small number of species. For instance, the finamasukui is found on masuku fruit. The Chipumi are one of the most common, and they are known as well by the English "mopane grubs" since they are found on the mopane tree.

After collection, the grubs are normally prepared for market. The next step involves drying of the caterpillars either next to a fire or in the sun. It is sometimes possible to see women drying caterpillars upon rattan mats laid out on the road. Once the caterpillars are dried, they are put in piles and sold at stalls in the market. Alternately, street vendors sell them to people in passing busses. A large cup of ishimi costs around 1500 Kwacha which is no small sum for many Zambians. An ishimi vendor can earn a little extra profit if she is willing to travel 10 - 15 hours by bus to Lusaka, Zambia's capital. Ishimi can be eaten raw, and it has a taste and texture similar to beef jerky. Alternately, the caterpillars are cooked into a stew consisting of tomatoes and onions. The stew is served with nshima which is a porridge-like corn based staple food.

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