Diana Makena’s love for insects sets of a beetle research project

Diana Makena ,an Entomology student at Kenya Methodist University.Her passion for insects has taken her to many places. [Picture : Waikwa Maina]
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Listening to her explain about insects, one concludes that Diana Makena is indeed a professor with decades of experience.

She is so conversant and confident with insects, a passion that has made her make major breakthroughs while still an on and off student.

Makena, who is a student of Entomology at Kenya Methodist University, works hard to earn a living and save enough for her school fees.

She has severally dropped out of college due to lack of fees, but that has not discouraged her from the lifetime dream, which is to study and be among lead entomologists in the world.

“We all have one challenge or another in life, but that should not deter us from pursuing our dreams and focus,” Makena said. She notes: “I took entomology as a course but due to lack of fees I had to take a break.”

Makena observes: “Each challenge presents us with a hidden opportunity to help us learn more. I got a job with Realimpact organization where I am gaining a lot of experience as well as raising money for my school fees.”

She adds: “The job gives me a lot of exposure and I am grateful to the management for having faith in me.”

Entomology is a study of insects which is under the branch of Zoology, and one that requires a lot of innovation and research work.

Makena’s love for insects is puzzling and it’s a wonder that she takes enough time admiring any type of insect she comes about.

Makena says that insects are very important to human beings yet most of us do not take them serious and fail even to notice them or kill them at will.

“Can you imagine of a world without insects? They are beautiful creatures, while some decorate our homes, others help with pollination at farms, others kill or eliminate those that are harmful to us and our crops,” Makena expounds.

“Nature has a way of balancing things and that is why we must not always result to usage of chemicals to kill the insects and pests in our farms, most of the chemicals are also harmful to us,” she explains.

Makena is the brains behind a successful research at Realimpact that has endeared a previously ignored insect, beetle, to many farmers. Many farmers are now embracing the insect as a protein supplement for their poultry.

“Each insect has a specific positive use to us in our daily lives. What lacks is the knowledge of how to utilize, without hurting them. We need to preserve them,” explains Makena. She adds: “I dream of a day when I will do enough research, not only to document my findings, but also to educate our community about which insect they can utilize for what purpose and how.”

With support of Realimpact Management, Makena undertook the beetles’ research due to what she terms as compromised quality of animal feeds and supplements due to high costs of protein rich raw materials.

Makena was lucky that Realimpact, a farmer training organization promotes organic farming, which she says is safer for insects.

The research involved easy breeding of beetles, and their nutritional value to chicken.

“Beetle larvae are very rich in protein because each larva contains 50 percent of proteins, with three larvae supplying a layer with enough proteins they need every day,” Makena explains.

“Breeding of the beetles is a cheap affair affordable by any farmer, so long as they have the knowledge, properly designed equipment and raw material which is basically wheat germ or grated carrots,” she explains.

Beetles are placed in plastic containers, from where they lay eggs which develop to larva.

The plastic containers are designed in such a way that they provide enough air for the beetles, and holes where the eggs drop into a separate container to later develop into larva.

A beetle lives for about eight weeks, laying between 270 and 500 eggs, which develop to larvae that are feed to chicken while others are preserved to develop to full beetles for continuity purposes.

This means that all a farmer needs is the first flock of beetles, from which he or she can keep multiplying them while feeding the layers.

“We tried all species of beetles and found out that the one with brownish and blackish colour is the best, it tolerates well with a new environment and its larva has more proteins compared to all other beetle varieties,” Makena expounds.

Each container measuring about seven by 27 inches holds an average of 400 beetles, meaning that if each of them lays an average of 300 eggs, a poultry farmer will have a minimum of 120,000 larvae, enough to feed 40,000 layers, just from that small container.

On feeding, the container can hold about a kilogramme of the carrots or wheat germ, and a farmer does not need to add or keep changing the feeds or adding more, as overfeeding may lead to death of beetles and larvae due to suffocation.

Again, there is always the risk of removing some eggs or larvae, or killing them when changing the feeds. Makena, therefore, highly discourages any unnecessary contacts with the insects at the breeding and multiplication containers.

Naturally, the insects and larva are delicate creatures, thus, the breeding must be done under some shade, avoiding direct sunlight.

“To feed a large number of chicken, a farmer can dry the larva and mix with the feeds at a county of three larvae per chicken. One does not have to waste time counting the larvae and feeding each layer,” says Makena.

According to Dr Maina Kimindi, a veterinary surgeon, protein deficiency in poultry is a serious issue. It leads to severe conditions including diseases such as un-thriftiness, poor growth and the exhibition of pica in flocks. This can result in a sharp drop in egg production.

“The same diseases and conditions can be cured by replacing the protein-deficient diet with a protein-sufficient on,” explains Kimindi. He adds: “Generally lack of proteins affects development of animal bones.”

Kimindi explains: “A chicken’s productive activities suffer the most” For example, the energy used by growing birds is heavily committed to assembling the contractile elements in muscle cells but not to increasing cell number; thus protein inadequacies readily affect muscle size.

“The effect of protein inadequacies on protein synthesis in the liver and oviduct is greatest with the laying hen. “Birds are scratchers by nature and it’s important for farmers to design their cages in a way that creates space for hens to scratch, Kimindi notes.

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