Entomophagy Reducing PovertyEntomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Throughout history and across geographical areas, adopting this diet has been a common and beneficial practice. Approximately 2 billion people across at least 99 countries regularly eat insects for protein, vitamins, minerals and fat content compared to meat or fish. There are about 1,900 edible insect species, from which humans eat eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Insects of choice include bees, wasps, beetles, moths, caterpillars, crickets and grasshoppers. In recent years, researchers have explored this avenue and begun to consider the means by which entomophagy can reduce poverty.

Health Benefit

For years, insects have been viewed as a delicacy around the world. People eat boiled larvae with a nutty flavor and snack on crunchy beetles like popcorn. But bugs are also beneficial for their nutritional content: cooked grasshoppers, for example, can have up to three times the amount of protein and one-third the amount of fat compared to a hamburger. In low-income areas, insects are easily accessible from nature. People living in poverty could benefit significantly from this availability by either consuming them to prevent undernutrition or selling them at local markets to generate income.

Environmental Benefit

According to the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research, insects are up to 20 times more efficient in converting food into edible tissue than cattle. Additionally, insects require far fewer resources and development to cultivate than other animals, which enables faster production (though this varies depending on the type of insect). Consuming insects offers a way to reduce crop-disrupting bugs without toxic or expensive insecticides. There is also little waste compared to cattle or other western proteins, which have to be processed and are only 40-50% edible. In contrast, people usually eat the entire insect.

Carbon emissions are lower in comparison to livestock. According to the Nutrition Bulletin from the Journal of the British Nutrition Foundation, the CO2 equivalent for beef is 2,058g/kg of mass gain, while insects have a CO2 equivalent of 68g/kg of mass gain. Many individual insect species leave an even smaller footprint.

Economic Benefit

The insect industry is diverse and can contribute to many markets. Silkworms are often used for fabrics and food, for instance, and weaver ants deter pests. The Chinese company HaoCheng Mealworm Inc. sells mealworms as flour, candy, condiments and instant noodles for human consumption. Also, this venture processes the worms into pet food for dogs, cats, birds and goldfish. Entomophagy provides economic contributions anywhere from street food businesses to commercialized companies.

Insect farming provides many employment opportunities for those living in rural areas of developing countries. Sericulturethe production and processing of silkwormsdemands 11 workdays per kilogram of raw silk, a higher employment rate than any other industry. The majority of insect farming and gathering is performed on a relatively small scale through family-owned businesses, often in rural areas where employment and income are desperately needed.

Trading these insect-produced goods is essential for developing countries as well. Zimbabwe deals with countries including South Africa, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. Many countries in Africa, Asia and South America export insects for food. Even Europe and the United States have begun importing these products despite the relative lack of consumption in Western countries.

Thailand has a particularly prominent market for insect consumption, with imports estimated at $10/kilogram. For comparison, beef is $3.03/kilogram, and glutinous rice is $0.82/kilogram. Additionally, Thailand’s imports of these products total $1.14 million per year.

Regulations and Compliance of the Emerging Insect Market

National and international organizations play a crucial role in regulating the insect market. The Dutch Insect Farmers Association has been vital in lobbying to promote legislation and policies designed to improve quality standards, compliance and legal trading of these products.

While most of the Western paradigm does not consider insects to be a tasty snack or gourmet meal, continuing to research and develop this emerging market could prove essential in fully utilizing entomophagy to reduce poverty in rural areas.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Wikipedia

palm weevil
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

Entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, could fight world hunger and global warming. A 200-page report, released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the organization’s Rome headquarters, is calling for restaurants, chefs, and food writers to promote eating insects.

According to the FAO, insects provide high-quality protein and nutrients compared to meat and fish. They can also be an important food supplement for undernourished children,  reproduce quickly, and leave a low environment footprint. Insects are high in protein, and can also be rich in copper, iron, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Furthermore, insects are four times more efficient in turning feed mass into edible meat, which suggests that food could be produced more cheaply and with fewer emissions.

The long history of entomophagy starts with grasshoppers served “toasted in a little oil with garlic, lemon and salt” on the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico and fly eggs called “Mexican caviar” that Montezuma devoured. Currently, two billion people worldwide indulge in the delicacy. However, consumer digestion will remain an issue when integrating insects into the Western diet. While ingesting insects outright makes many Westerners squeamish, reports by the FDA suggest that insect fragments can already be found several food products such as wheat and tomato juice but is safe to eat on a small scale.

Though this new protein may not find it’s way onto dinner plates in the near future, eating insects could fight would hunger and is an firm step forward in maintaining food security world wide.

– Kira Maixner

Source: The Telegraph