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

HomeBioGasAround three billion people in rural areas still utilize simple stoves that require burning wood, crop refuse or coal. These resources create dangerous air pollution, causing over 3.8 million premature deaths annually. The HomeBioGas startup aims to change this.

HomeBioGas, an organic renewable energy system created by an Israeli startup, aims to reduce the death toll in rural areas while at the same time helping farmers and families reduce their carbon footprint.

The machine safely converts food waste and animal manure into cooking gas and liquid fertilizer. The machine serves as a sustainable tool for urban and rural families living off the grid.

According to the company’s website, the 88-pound machine starts by adding a bacteria to a combination of waste and water, which triggers a fermentation process. The reaction then produces a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used as energy.

The system can break down up to six liters of food waste, including meat and dairy. It can also dissolve 15 liters of animal manure, yielding about three hours worth of cooking gas and about 10 liters of liquid fertilizer. Families then can use the resulting gas to cook around three meals a day.

One of the few problems with HomeBioGas, however, is its dependency on warm temperatures. Under 64°F (17°C), the system will decrease its productivity, and it will cease to function at 32°F (0°C).

After a year, though, users eliminate one ton of organic waste, as well as decreasing toxic emissions going into the atmosphere.

Oshik Efrati, CEO of HomeBioGas, told Reuters that the system “will be available to everyone [who] needs it in the developing world.”

The company has already dispensed systems to underserved locations in order to cut back reliance on other types of fuel.

In the summer of 2014, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection bought and installed multiple units at Umm Batin, a Bedouin village without access to clean energy and garbage removal.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Energy and Mining, aiming to reduce the impoverished population’s overdependence on wood, recently signed a contract with HomeBioGas to purchase 50 biodigesters.

The pilot program’s prior success in the two countries, led their governments have decided to purchase even more biodigesters to combat poverty in these locations.

John Gilmore

Sources: Huffington Post, Israel 21c, IndieGoGo
Photo: EcoWatch

z1 Borgen Project
In Africa, there are many foreign corporations investing in and fueling industry, many of which are part of extractive industries that may not be economically beneficial for the continent in the long run. A company that stands apart from this ilk is Unilever.

Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods corporation whose products reach 2 billion consumers in over 190 countries, making it one of the world’s top 500 largest corporations. Unilever has been in Africa for over a century and produces annual sales there of more than $5 billion, employing 40,000 people on the continent in offices and building factories in 40 locations.

This megalithic corporation has built an impressive reputation for itself. FORTUNE Magazine consistently recognizes Unilever among the World’s Most Admired Consumer Food Product Companies and in 2013 recognized Unilever as a Top 50 World’s Most Admired Company. Much of this admiration stems from the numerous gender diversity and environmental sustainability awards Unilever has garnered over the years.

Despite these accolades, criticisms are aplenty and certain truths are unavoidable. For example, Unilever’s biggest purchases are palm oil, soya, paper and beef. These are commodities whose global trade is responsible for 50 percent of global tropical deforestation, admitted Gavin Nearth, senior vice president of sustainability at Unilever.

Significantly, these criticisms are not necessarily thrown in a dark corner at Unilever with the hope that they will wither and die. There is an acknowledgement that the vast corporation’s practices have enormous environmental and social impacts that have not been, and still are not in many instances, sustainable.

Yet things do seem to be changing. In 2009, Paul Polman, previously an executive at Nestle and before, Proctor & Gamble, became Chief Operating Officer of Unilever. Within a year he introduced the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, a series of goals that aim to transform the company by doubling its size while increasing its positive social impact and reducing its environmental footprint by 50 percent. Despite the worry of many stockholders, according to Financial Times, Mr. Polman believes that these goals are necessary to maintain a “license to operate” in an age of public scrutiny.

Increasing social impact includes increasing workplace rights, ensuring that women get a fair deal and improving health and well-being for more than 1 billion people. Reduction of Unilever’s environmental footprint entails ensuring that their products and supply chain meet environmental requirements covering everything from forest protection to pest control. The impact of working toward these goals will manifest in Unilever’s sizable African operation.

Furthermore, Unilever’s business model in Africa impacts the African poor. According to Frank Braeken, Unilever Executive Vice President for Africa, “There is a growing realization that the future of Africa is based around a consumer rather than mining. This is a consumer that has been under-served and over-charged.” For Mr. Braekan, there are hundreds of millions of untouched consumers, most of whom are low-income, known as bottom of the pyramid (BOP), consumers.

A method through which Unilever reaches BOP consumers is low unit packs (LUPs). These are small consumer goods, worth as little as half a cent. Small shop owners buy goods from Unilever companies in large packs and resell them in smaller portions.

LUPs is just one method by which Unilever plans to meet Africa’s poor and their needs. In conjunction with its vast operations on the continent and increasingly sustainable business model, Unilever will be able to be quite the developing force in Africa.

– Connor Bohannan

Sources: BDlive, Financial Times, How We Made It in Africa, Telegraph, Unilever
Photo: Telegraph