Uganda's booming grasshopper industry leaps over tradition

Ugandan tradition dictates that only women and children catch grasshoppers, but high profit margins have brought men into the industry, too.

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    A vendor sells fresh grasshoppers in Kampala, Uganda.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Ugandan custom has it that only women and children catch grasshoppers, and only men enjoy eating the delicacy. Within the past 10 years, though, grasshopper trapping has turned into a lucrative trade, and men have swapped tradition for opportunity.

During the country’s two rainy seasons, the sight of women and children with plastic bags and cupped hands has given way to powerful lights set above rusty oil drums lined with aluminum sheets to help commercial catchers, mostly men, find the insects more easily. The harvest is shipped in 110 lb. sacks to market, where the grasshoppers are sold raw, deep-fried, or sautéed with onion and chili. Four teaspoons’ worth sells for 50 cents.

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Lawrence Mawanda says he makes about $1,000 per season from grasshoppers – nearly double Uganda’s gross domestic product per capita. He has earned enough to construct two stalls, and can now afford to pay for his children’s schooling.

But not everyone is happy. An overburdened electricity grid has lead to an uptick in power outages during grasshopper season.

“You can’t wish the trappers away,” explains Kirunda Magoola, a district manager for Umeme, Uganda’s main private power distributor. “So you have to jump on board.”

Two years ago, Mr. Magoola cofounded the Bansenene Development Association Southern Region to give trappers collective bargaining power while ensuring a sustainable trade. Trappers are charged a seasonal flat rate of around $400 to run 12,400-watt bulbs for eight hours a day. Those who pay are more likely to out those who don’t, helping grasshopper trapping leap even further forward.

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