Insects, especially in their larval stage, are an inexpensive, low-input, and readily accessible source of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals for peoples living in tropical forests, particularly those that do not keep livestock or practice intensive agriculture. In some areas the sale of edible insects in local markets contributes significantly to household incomes.
Likpokolo is the name for the larvae of the centaur beetle (Augosoma centaurus, from the subfamily Dynastinae) in the local dialect of Lingala spoken around Basoko, a town on the Congo river in Tshopo Province in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The centaur beetle, which grows to a length of 9 centimeters in both its larval and adult stage, lives in forests throughout Central Africa and is a popular food in parts of Cameroon and the Republic of Congo as well as in DR Congo. The larvae are ivory colored and have a row of dark spots running down either side of their body. They develop in various tree species (eucalyptus and several palms, including coconut, oil palm, and raffia) as well as in the soil, and are considered a pest for economically important trees.
The larvae are available throughout the year, making them especially important as a food source in seasons when other edible insects are scarce. They are harvested from the ground with a spade, or from trees or logs using a machete, and collected in buckets. Trees do not need to be felled to collect likpokolo, and gathering them is a sustainable method of pest control. Once harvested, the larvae are eaten raw, roasted, or grilled. When cooked, they give off a faint bean-like aroma and taste a bit like bacon. They are gathered for household consumption and also sold in markets in Basoko, where they fetch a relatively high price compared to other edible insects.
Likpokolo have been gathered and consumed in and around Basoko for generations and remain a popular food among the elderly and young alike, but have become less abundant in recent years due to deforestation, both from logging and oil palm production. Likpokolo are a sustainable source of protein and promoting their consumption is important not only for maintaining local food traditions, but also for conserving the forest.