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Mopane worms emerging as Botswana’s lucrative export commodity

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Historically, mopane worms have been harvested and consumed at the household level, with surplus used in barter trade to meet other household needs or to be shared with family, according to his thesis.

James Sekonya has spent more than six years studying mopane worms but he has still never tasted the edible caterpillars. Sekonya, of the University of Cape Town’s department of environmental and geographical sciences, is the author of a new study that examines the ‘lucrative’ cross-border trade in mopane worms, the caterpillar phase of the Imbrasia belina moth.

“Increasingly, mopane worms are gaining popularity among consumers in large cities and outside their natural range. An increasing rural-to-urban migration has driven the growing popularity as urban consumers reconnect with their rural lives,” said Sekonya.

Estimates show that the mopane worm trade generates between $ 39 million and $ 100 million a year, ‘depending on the quality of the outbreak and prevailing weather conditions’. In South Africa, this market is concentrated in peri-urban areas and is supplied by imports from Botswana and Zimbabwe, with most of this value accruing to traders rather than harvesters, the study notes.

Harvesting and related processing occur in Botswana, while bulk trading and vending are more concentrated in the South African markets. Two factors are influential. “First, market prices have been shown to increase exponentially in times of shortage from June to November, long after harvesters had sold off their stock at lower prices. Second, traders increase profits through exporting to markets in South Africa where demand far exceeds supply from local harvest,” concluded Sekonya.