“Let Them Eat Bugs!”

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crickets_1With a projected global population nearing 9 billion in coming years, researchers have been looking for new and innovative sustainable food resources. Food insecurity is already an issue in some countries across the Global South, and without new sources of nutrition, the issue has the potential to escalate. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Association estimates that “global food production will need to expand by an estimated 60 percent from current levels to meet global food requirements by 2050.”

How can the world sustain this? Enter entomophagy: the consumption of insects. We have previously covered the topic of edible insects, but the industry has been growing.

Thailand has recently become the world leader in insect farming, with approximately 20,000 insect farms that produce food for both local an international consumption. Together they create an estimated 7,500 tons of edible insects per year. Popular insects are grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars. Different regions in Thailand also harvest and consume other types of insects: weaver ants and bamboo caterpillars are common in the North, and larvae are common throughout the South. Worldwide, there are over 1,500 recorded species of insects consumed by humans.

Compared to traditional livestock and other types of agriculture, insects are easy to farm. Unlike crops, insects do not rely on specific weather patterns to mature, and unlike other livestock, insects take up little space and can grow off of table scraps rather than large amounts of grain. Common problems that traditional farmers face are not something that insect farmers need to worry about.

cricket_2Insect farms have also created a new form of income generation for many families. It’s become an easy way for farmers to make money, especially since the industry is growing. Many people are quickly realizing that insects are a great source of protein as well as other necessary vitamins needed for a healthy lifestyle. They are also much lower in saturated fats compared to other sources of protein, which makes for a healthier choice.

The amount of supplies an insect farmer needs is also notably lower than producing other proteins like beef or pork. Livestock typically takes multiple acres of farmland and large amounts of feed and water, whereas insects can be raised in smaller cages or enclosed areas and can eat leftover scraps of fruits and vegetables. Most agriculture can only be harvested once or twice per year, depending on the growing cycles and seasons, but insects can be harvest in as little as two months, since they mature at much faster rates.

In many Asian countries, insects are often the main component in traditional dishes, which is why demand for them is so high. Tourists are becoming more open to the idea of eating insects, and taking this so called ‘food-trend’ home with them to other countries. The majority of the global population have embraced insects as a healthy, and cheaper, alternative protein, and North Americans and Europeans are starting to, albeit slowly, as well.

The first urban edible cricket farm in the US, Big Cricket Farms, opened this past Spring in Ohio, and is ready to start distributing crickets this Fall. Their goal is to not only provide a sustainable food source to those in need, but to also provide jobs and help boost the local economy in Youngstown, where they are located.

For more information, check out this article from the Huffington Post, or a full report on insect farms in Thailand put together by the UN’s FAO, here.

For an easy cricket-pesto recipe, and more information on urban cricket farming, check out the following video from Big Cricket Farms:

 

 

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Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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