Edible insectsEdible insects may be the solution to alleviating food insecurity. With rising global rates of hunger and a growing population, the world needs affordable, sustainable and accessible food sources. Traditional livestock requires acres of land, not to mention massive quantities of crops for feed and a lot of water too. Overall, livestock does not present a sustainable food source for the future. Edible insects, however, are increasing in popularity as research reveals a myriad of benefits that make edible insects a possible solution to reducing food insecurity across the world.

Poverty and Food Shortages

According to a U.N. report, in 2020, “between 720 and 811 million people in the world” suffered from hunger. Additionally, 2.37 billion people worldwide did not have sufficient access to adequate food. Both of these statistics saw an increase in the millions in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers.

Soaring food prices are making it even more challenging for those with low incomes to afford food. According to “rapid phone surveys done by the World Bank,” 48 nations across the world report “a significant amount of people” experiencing food shortages and resorting to minimizing food consumption due to financial struggles. Food shortages greatly affect the overall health and nutrition of people.

Children are particularly susceptible to the impacts of inadequate nutritious food as malnutrition can lead to detrimental, lifelong consequences for children. Because nutritious food generally costs more, a nutritious meal is out of reach for many impoverished people, especially during COVID-19.

Current Food Industry

By 2050, the expected global population will increase to roughly nine billion people. To keep up with the food demands of a growing population, “global agriculture production” needs to increase by 60-70%. However, the agricultural sectors of the world experience frequent threats from droughts, natural disasters, soil degradation and more.

About 80% of global farmland is used for feeding and raising livestock. A large proportion of arable land used for crops go toward animal feed. Moreover, greater land use for livestock leads to more deforestation. The meat industry is one of the largest industries in the world. Per capita, meat consumption has more than doubled since 1961. Unfortunately, livestock production is an unsustainable practice resulting in water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

Livestock production contributes to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO. More than 70 billion animals are slaughtered each year, requiring acres of land and tons of feed. In developing countries especially, many people simply cannot afford the high cost of a nutritious diet, bringing about an increasing need for affordable and sustainable food sources.

The Rise of the Edible Insect Market

Insects are raised in warehouses, utilizing less farmland and feed. Furthermore, insects are low-cost and are easily accessible. Cultures around the world have consumed edible insects for hundreds of years yet many people express distaste in welcoming insects into their diets. But slowly, as people realize the many benefits of edible insects, more people are open to insects as a food source. Insects could be a solution to the issues surrounding poverty, food insecurity and environmental impact. The edible insect market is expected to reach $4.63 billion by 2027, making it a viable business venture as well.

The Specific Benefits of Edible Insects

  • Insects produce significantly fewer gases that pollute the air and water. One study found that crickets release “80% less methane than cows and 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs.”
  • Insects require less land, water and feed than the world’s typical livestock.
  • “Insects are 12-25 more efficient at converting energy into protein than animals.”
  • If the world replaces half of all meat consumption with insects, farmland usage would be cut by roughly 33% or slightly more than 4,000 acres.
  • Insects contain 60% protein, providing more protein than chicken and beef. Insects also contain more vitamins and minerals than beef, including iron, zinc and magnesium. In areas facing famine or food shortages, powdered crickets or mealworms provide nutrition and prevent disease.
  • Insects can help increase food crop production by reducing the need for crops as livestock feed since insects can serve as livestock feed. Insects can also survive on leftover food and agriculture scraps.
  • Insect excrement can be used as fertilizer.

Looking Forward

An important aspect of raising edible insects is finding a species that is suited for the region and is socially acceptable, especially in areas of poverty. The insect must be affordable enough for people of different economic backgrounds to purchase. Edible insects are packed with nutrients and present a potential solution to many environmental and social challenges. Overall, insects hold great value in addressing rising levels of global food insecurity.

– Madeleine Proffer
Photo: Flickr

poverty and obesity
The fact that both poverty and obesity simultaneously rose amid the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly tipping 130 million people into chronic malnutrition by the end of 2020, may initially come across as surprising. Yet, researchers have long documented the paradox of how impoverished individuals experiencing food insecurity are more likely to suffer from obesity than the wealthy. Poverty and obesity often go hand in hand as signs of food unavailability and a lack of healthy eating, respectively, but these conditions of malnutrition also carry more subtle risk factors like unemployment, lower education levels and limited social networks.

The Problem: Food Access, Not Just Food Availability

Food insecurity manifests itself in many ways beyond undernourishment from an insufficient quantity of food — the prominent of which is unreliable access to nutritious, healthy options. With COVID-19 exacerbating pre-existing inequities and inadequacies in global food systems, poor diets and their resultant boosting of obesity present an urgent problem for vulnerable populations in developing countries. “The pandemic is creating a problem not of food availability, but of food access because people will have less income because of the recession,” explained Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

UN Data further showed that if the trend of limited food access continues, the world’s hungry will surpass 840 million by 2030 — the very same year 193 countries have set as their target by which they will have eliminated all forms of malnutrition. And with disruptions to agricultural supply chains due to COVID-19, governments face growing pressure to take unprecedented action to tackle the worldwide spikes in food prices if they are to meet this target. It is also no coincidence that nearly all of the 50 countries with the most risk for sustained food-price swings have developing economies, according to Nomura’s Food Vulnerability Index.

Healthy eating emphasizes fresh produce and lean meats, ideally locally-sourced with minimal processing and preservatives. However, the agricultural and meat industries were the first and most affected when governments implemented COVID-19 quarantines and travel restrictions. The successive disruptions meant it was more difficult for farms to receive agriculture inputs of seeds, fertilizer and equipment, further delaying production of healthy eating staples: rice, maize, wheat, vegetables and other produce. Producers of unhealthier, more processed foods don’t face the same problem of financial losses from rotting food. Thus, during this time, those foods are more accessible and affordable at the expense of poorer consumers’ health.

The Effects: COVID-19 and Obesity

Unfortunately, the connection between COVID-19, poverty and obesity works in reverse as well. Obesity is a major risk factor for a more severe infection, resulting in higher hospitalization and death rates once one has caught the virus. Most recently, a number of studies and anecdotes have noted obesity as the predominant risk factor in youth, with cardiologist David Kass concluding “in populations with a high prevalence of obesity, COVID-19 will affect younger populations more than previously reported.” The CDC has incorporated these findings by specifying that obesity is just as significant a risk factor for severe COVID-19 illness as a suppressed immune system or chronic lung disease.

Though researchers have mostly focused on the link between COVID-19 and obesity in high-income countries, it may have more devastating effects in the developing world. Not only does evidence show “over 70% of the world’s 2 billion overweight and obese individuals live in low or middle-income countries,” obesity also leads to higher health care costs and lower work productivity, which go hand-in-hand with greater consumption of cheaper, unhealthy food options. The created feedback loop is referred to as the “double burden of malnutrition.” Moreover, as Kass’s findings suggested, the victims of COVID-19 in developing countries are younger. In India and Mexico respectively, less than 12% and 17% of deaths were of individuals older than 75, and both of these countries report much more deaths of middle-aged and younger individuals than the U.S. and Europe do.

Solutions to Improve Global Food Security

One estimate of how much governmental spending is needed to combat COVID-19’s effects on hunger and obesity was $10 billion, put forth by the International Food Policy Research Institute. However, even this amount may be insufficient when considering that food insecurity will only continue compounding if addressing poverty isn’t a cornerstone of the solutions put forth. The World Food Programme has prioritized this need for financial safety nets and social protection programs until investment in nutrition and expansion of social protections. Their Executive Director David Beasley plans to allocate $1.9 billion of already pledged funding to build food and cash stockpiles as a “life-saving buffer,” protecting the world’s poor from food shortages and food-price hikes. They also requested a further $350 million to set up transportation systems, limiting shortages and disruptions in the agricultural industry from occurring in the first place.

In combination with these correctional measures, governments should adopt a preventative approach to addressing obesity. “One of the most effective ways to address obesity and other non-communicable diseases is by ramping up investments in affordable, quality primary health care,” says Dr. Muhammad Pate, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank. “This makes sense both from a health and an economic perspective. Putting more resources on the front lines to detect and treat conditions early, before they become more serious, saves lives, improves health outcomes, reduces health care costs and strengthens preparedness.” With these efforts in place, the paradoxical relationship between poverty and obesity may begin to ease.

– Christine Mui
Photo: PXFuel

COVID-19 global food crisis
On June 9
, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres released a new U.N. policy brief regarding global access to proper nutrition and a potential COVID-19 global food emergency. The brief explained that if countries do not act now, a global food emergency will be inevitable. Millions of people were dealing with hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic, but current statistics show that hunger is more rampant than ever due to the pandemic’s effects.

According to the U.N., there is enough food to feed the global population of 7.8 billion people, but 820 million people remain hungry. Of these people, 144 million children are stunted due to malnutrition – more than one in five children worldwide. A “stunted” child has physical and cognitive growth failure that develops over a long period of time due to limited access to food and health care. Similarly, there are currently 47 million children classified as “wasting.” Wasting children have a dangerously low weight-to-height ratio due to acute food shortages or disease. The growth of 700,000 children will be stunted for every percentage point drop in the global GDP, making the pandemic’s economic impact even greater.

As of May, 368 million schoolchildren were missing out on daily school meals that they depended on for food. While these numbers are already high, they are predicted to continue to rise if countries do not act now to avoid a global food emergency. The U.N. policy brief posed three recommendations to save lives and create sustainable food production.

Essential Food Services

Measures to control COVID-19 outbreaks are affecting global food supply chains. Border restrictions and slowing harvests in some parts of the world are leaving millions of seasonal workers without jobs. Also, these factors constrain the transport of food to markets.

Governments are forcing the closure of many meat and dairy processing plants and food markets due to virus outbreaks among workers. Farmers have been buying perishable produce or dumping milk as a result of supply chain disruption and falling consumer demand. Because many people cannot buy fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, they are suffering from malnutrition.

To combat these challenges, countries should require that food and nutritional services, and the processing and transport of their goods, are considered essential and remain open during the pandemic. Additionally, governments should provide protections for people working in this sector.

Meal Protections

The policy brief stated that countries should strengthen social protection systems for nutrition, including the millions of children missing out on meals at school. There needs to be a focus on vulnerable groups like children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and the elderly so they can access safe and nutritional foods.

Food Systems

Food systems are a major contributor to climate change. In general, countries need to transform food systems to achieve a more sustainable world. Food systems contribute to 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 44% of all methane emissions. Not only are these realities damaging on their own, but they are exacerbated by additional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries should be aware of their environmental impact and reconsider how they produce, market, process and consume food and how they dispose of wastePer the U.N. policy brief, countries are strongly urged to consider the recommendations to avoid a COVID-19 global food emergency.

What Is Being Done, and How You Can Help

Across the world, food systems must be protected not only for consumers but also for humanitarian efforts. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is dedicated to helping millions of people around the world. Thirty million men, women and children depend on WFP for daily survival as it is their only source of food. WFP is responding by increasing food production, supporting the global response and monitoring data. Data is essential to creating the right solutions at the right time. Donations are always needed and now more than ever to provide millions with the necessary food.

As WFP states “Hunger won’t stop because of a virus, so neither will we.”

 – Anna Brewer
Photo: Flickr

The U.N. released its latest annual report on world hunger this week with some encouraging results: the number of chronically hungry people in the world has been reduced by 216 million since 1990.

That still leaves 795 million hungry today. However, considering the world’s rapidly growing population, a decrease in hundreds of millions of hungry people is a testament to the continued success of anti-hunger measures worldwide.

These measures are included as part of the U.N.’s eight Millennium Development Goals. The first goal seeks to “halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.”

According to the report, 72 of 129 nations monitored by the U.N. have met this goal. Progress was greatest in Latin America and parts of Asia.

Success in hunger reduction has been attributed to three important developments, the report states. They include: improved agricultural productivity, economic growth and the expansion of social protection.

Agricultural productivity and economic growth are both driven by investments in education and technology. In China, rapid economic growth was responsible for decreasing an enormous number of hungry people.

However, the report found inequality to be partly responsible for global hunger, which is why economic growth must be inclusive. Growth must also be harnessed into social protection programs, which have kept 150 million people from extreme poverty, according to the report.

In a press release, Executive Director of the World Food Programme Erthain Cousin stated, “healthy bodies and minds are fundamental to both individual and economic growth, and that growth must be inclusive for us to make hunger history.”

While these gains are noteworthy, problems still continue in sub-Saharan Africa and India.The report says almost one in four people go hungry in Sub-Saharan Africa each year. India, meanwhile, has the most hungry people in total. An estimated 194.6 million Indians suffer from undernourishment.

This leaves more work to be done.

In a press release, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, urged the world to continue its progress. “We must be the Zero Hunger generation,” the director said. “That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

The report, titled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015,” was produced by three related U.N. agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme.

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: International Business Times, FAO 1, FAO 2, U.N.
Photo: Applied Unificationism

Global Food Insecurity
There really is no formula to defining global food insecurity. Still, many world health organizations use the term to point out deficiencies in global food security. To understand what something is, it sometimes helps to understand what it is not. This may just be the case with food insecurity. To understand food insecurity, that is, one must first define and understand food security and work backwards. If food security does not exist, then, by definition, you have food insecurity.

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” This definition hinges on three qualifications: namely food availability, food access, and food use. Lacking one of these elements of food security, a population faces food insecurity, which can and does arise in an endless permutation of manners.


Global Food Insecurity: Failing Food Security Criteria


To establish food security, say, in a developing nation, food must first be available on a consistent basis. Some will argue that there is currently enough food in the world to feed everyone in the world. Nonetheless, people go hungry due to inconsistency in their daily intake of food. For example, one may go days without a meal. In this situation, a cornucopia of food, arriving two weeks later, does nothing to alleviate that person’s current hunger. As such, food security depends on food availability.

Second, the nation’s population must have access to the right kinds of food to sustain a healthy diet. Not only must a person have food available, that is, it must be the right kind of food. For example, a human cannot survive on rice alone. We need all different kinds of food to live healthy lives. The definition of healthy diet here also includes accommodations to particular dietary needs, such as avoiding certain foods or increasing intake of others.

Finally, food security requires appropriate use of food based on adequate knowledge of basic nutrition and care. In order to maintain a healthy diet, one must know how to eat the food that is available to him or her and portion that food out in a way that best serves the needs of his or her body. When USAID drops bags of food over Africa, for example, it will be helpful to also teach those receiving the aid how to ration the food. Basic sanitation and access to water are included in appropriate use to complete the qualifications of food security.

If even one of these three elements or qualifications is not met, it is easy to see how even a full plate of food, three times a day, may not be enough to maintain a healthy diet. Food security requires that the food is enough to satisfy the short, mid, and long-term needs of the human body and that the person consuming the food does so in an appropriate manner to maintain him or herself. Global food insecurity, or deficient food security from a worldwide perspective, exists in a world where even one person goes hungry.

Though great strides have been made in alleviating global hunger, the current level of food insecurity is unacceptable. Even in the United States, 1 out of 10 households were food insecure, hence the importance of food provision and education programs, like, local food banks. To learn more about food (in)security in the U.S., you can visit this site.

– Herman Watson

Sources: U.S. Food Aid and Security, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization
Photo: Security and Sustainability Forum