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Palm Weevil: Solution for Food Insecurity

To many in the developed world, insects are nothing more than a 
nuisance. They ruin perfectly fun summers, spread dangerous diseases and can wreak havoc on crop production. They are pestilent almost anywhere, but in some tropical and sub-tropical areas, insects are diverse, plentiful and an excellent source of protein.

One such bug, the palm weevil, is even considered to be a super food by the standards of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Now a new social enterprise is working to commercially farm the nutritious bug to combat food insecurity.

Aspire, a startup social enterprise that won the prestigious Hult Prize in 2013, is looking to bring insect-based meals to the impoverished masses in Ghana, Mexico, Kenya and Thailand. Originally a five-member team of MBA students from McGill University, the group is now growing in size and has an official partnership with the FAO.

In Ghana, the palm weevil is a culturally accepted staple of the Ghanaian diet, but commercial production of the insect is nonexistent. At the same time, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are pervasive in Ghana, and developmental issues such as growth and mental health in children are growing as a result.

The palm weevil offers an interesting solution to the lack of nutrition in the Ghanaian diet. Whereas producing one pound of beef requires 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and 1,345 square feet of land, producing one pound of crickets (similar to producing palm weevils) requires only one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and 134 square feet of land. Insects like the cricket and the palm weevil are much more cost effective to farm and offer comparable levels of protein to beef production.

But unlike beef, palm weevil protein is also rich in essential micronutrients like iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorous. Growing commercial volumes of the bug for food production is cheaper than growing beef, offers more vitamins and minerals and can promote food security in Ghana quite effectively.

Mohammed Ashour, one of the founding members of Aspire, says farming the insect is easy and straightforward. “The process of farming itself isn’t overly complicated. Someone who is uneducated but industrious can do it and get it up and running in a short amount of time,” Ashour told CNN.

The enterprise is in its earliest stage, having only started in 2013. It will need to grow substantially and learn from its current projects to impact food security globally. Entomophagy, the human consumption of insects for food, is as old of a practice as humans themselves. Perhaps economizing the practice is the way to promote stable and nutritious diets for the world in the future.
– Joseph McAdams

Sources: Aspire, CISR Blog, CNN, World Bank
Photo: LGCNews