Time to get a wriggle on? Consuming bugs for human food security.

Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.

It all stated yesterday – I was walking through the University of Sydney campus, and The Economist were giving away Bug Ice-cream! Yep – and bug ice-cream is exactly what it sounds like – a delicious berry gelato with the sweet crunch of berry seeds, ground up ants, and whole crickets! Delicious…. Right?

Whilst the idea may initially seem repulsive, insect consumption as a food source is becoming a “buzz” word of 2018 food security talk.

The new buzz word has flown in for good reason too – bugs have a very high nutritional value, are a very sustainable form of protein to cultivate, and can generate great socio-economic benefits to many poor regions.

Farming and consuming insects isn’t a new idea either. Thailand has more than 20,000 insect farmers alone, compared to the 85,000 in Australia. Globally, over 2 billion people are already consuming insects as part of their usual diets. In many countries, some insects are even considered a delicacy!

Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, identifies that “insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed.”

Across the world there are over 2000 different insect species consumed. Beetles and caterpillars are the most common species, followed by bees, wasps, ants, cicadas, locusts, crickets, dragonflies, and flies.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caterpillars are a regular protein source at local markets year round. The average household in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa consumes 300g of caterpillars per week, which adds up to 96 tonnes consumed annually in the city.

Fun fact #1the practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy.

Why is it crunch time?

Insects have a very high nutritional value – they are high in protein (65%), contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, and high levels of iron, calcium and zinc.

Insects are a sustainable protein source –  Insects emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most other protein sources (livestock), do not require land clearing, and are very efficient at converting feed into protein.

“The bigger the beast, the more food, land and water is needed to produce the final edible product, resulting in higher greenhouse-gas emissions. A cow takes 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef, but only 40% of the cow can be eaten. Crickets require just 1.7 kg of food to produce 1 kg of meat, and 80% is considered edible”.
The Economist

Insects bring great socio-economic benefits – Insect harvesting and processing is relatively low-capital intensive and uses unsophisticated machinery. This means the industry has huge potential for many poor people in rural areas of the developing world, giving access to employment and income.

Fun Fact #2 – Insects contain up to 65% protein!

Should we be so quick to critter-cise?

According to Eva Muller, the Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, “Insects are not harmful to eat, quite the contrary. They are nutritious, they have a lot of protein and are considered a delicacy in many countries”.

But to get insects onto the plates of more people around the world, will require upscaling of the industry to larger automated facilities (most production currently occurs through small-scale production).

Muller continues, “Most [insects] are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming, for example, which is something that could be explored in view of a growing population.”

But before bugs will make their way onto our common dinner plates, there is another big hurdle – consumer preferences! As good as bugs are, it is fair to say that many western consumers feel rather uncomfortable consuming creepy crawlies (this is dubbed the disgust factor).  Although, diets are well documented as been able to quickly change, so who knows when/if bugs will be welcomed crawling into our pantries sometime soon!



So even if you’re not hopping/crawling/marching off to stock up on bugs, it’s important we recognize the huge potential these critters may have for global food security, and the importance of innovation and challenging current norms to overcome some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

For more information check out:

The Economist: https://learnmore.economist.com/story/58ff11c009e97e5a29f0b2ec

FAO: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm


Christine Freak is the resident Development Agriculture expert here at AgriEducate, and a lover of insect puns. If you have a development agriculture story you’d like covered get in touch with Christine at agrieducate@gmail.com.

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