Protein Futures There's increased global interest in edible insects (Part 2)

Gathering or farming insects is an accessible and simple way to earn an income for small farmers and can help to improve livelihoods.

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Protein futures play

Protein futures

(Judd van Rensburg)
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Written by Marie Sainabou Jeng

From Wild Edibles to an Industry Sector

Gathering or farming insects is an accessible and simple way to earn an income for small farmers and can help to improve livelihoods.

But the GREEiNSECT research project asks a central question: ”How can mass rearing of edible insects contribute to a transition to green economy?”

The project focuses on Kenya and how the country can boost its insect production.

Thailand is one of the few countries which has actually has developed a viable and thriving insect-farming sector.

Protein futures play

Protein futures

(Judd van Rensburg)

 

For the past 15 years that country has worked systematically to build an industry of more than 20,000 farms.

A market has developed to supply local food markets and to process insects into food or feed for export.

For that reason, Thailand was an obvious case study for the GREEiNSECT research team.

In February this year they went on a field trip to learn how to farm insects using the Thai's successful production model.

Before the trip, the project’s trials in Kenya failed because of problems with hatching, productivity and the growth rate.

Their crickets didn’t gain weight fast enough, had a high death rate and were bothered by a number of other practicalities.

GREEiNSECT says that they benefited greatly from observing Thailand’s production, and after adapting and scaling Thai practice to specific Kenyan conditions - including  climate and feed quality - are obtaining better results few months after their visit.

An industry for breeding insects for human consumption still has hard times in other insect consuming countries.

But there are techniques and practices to be learned and adapted from producers in China, Spain, USA and South Africa that are already producing large quantities of insects for aquaculture and poultry feed.

In Cape Town, the company Agriprotein is a shining example of farming natural sources of protein sustainably and on a large scale.

Protein futures play

Protein futures

(Judd van Rensburg)

 

Since 2009 they have developed insect-based protein feed by a nutrient-recycling bioconversion process in which they use waste from the food industry as a growth medium for black soldier flies.

The flies lay eggs that hatch into larvae. The larvae eat their way through the waste and grow rapidly. They are then collected and sold as highly-nutritious feed components.

Agriprotein is constructing a second factory farm north of Cape Town; when it opens later this year it could be the world’s largest fly farm, producing 30 tons of feed every day.

The company is also working on developing farms in the US, Latin America, Asia and Australia, according to founder and director Jason Drew.

Whether the next step is establishing a production system with insects for human consumption is still uncertain, but the environmental benefits of farming insects is significant compared to production of, for example, cattle and pork.

Insects grow fast and efficiently metabolise what they eat. On average insects can convert 2kg of feed into 1kg of insect mass, whereas cattle require 8kg of feed to produce 1kg of bodyweight gain, according to the FAO.

Recognition of Cultural Heritage

Back in Copenhagen, another group of students are recognised for their innovative approach to gastronomy, food culture and diversity.

Nordic Food Lab, co-founded by Noma’s Redzepi, is a non-profit, open source research lab working in close collaboration with leading Danish and international universities.

They conduct their experiments and research on a houseboat-cum-laboratory in the city’s harbour, just next to Noma.

Here, Nordic Food Lab’s international team of chefs, researchers and product developers are researching and testing alternative foods such as seaweed and insects, while disseminating knowledge and findings through their blog, their radio station, academic publications and as sought-after guest speakers around the world.

Head chef Roberto Flore was the first to challenge the students at the famous French culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, at the school’s branch in Bangkok.

Protein futures play

Protein futures

(Judd van Rensburg)

 

For the first time since the school was founded in 1895, insects were cooked and tasted on purpose for the lecture ‘Edible Insects in a gastronomy context’.

The students were taught the insects’ potential and were also served some of the lab’s specialties, such as ant-infused gin and cricket consommé.

While Redzepi is moving fast, finding new ways of developing the restaurant industry’s business as usual, Khan is trying to find solutions in the past.

She scratches her head when looking at the international movement of entomophagy.

“We have been doing this forever. But the movement is a driver for a whole new world of possibilities in helping and inspiring people in the way they eat.

"Once they realise the limitation is their mind, then you can break through other barriers surrounding the problems at other levels,” says Khan.

“We have become very limited in the diversity of our diets. We need to focus on diversity in our system and on our plates. Insects are a very interesting way to do that,” she emphasises.

“At the end of the day everybody needs to get access to that knowledge. It needs to be accessible, not exclusive.”

For more information on Nordic Food Lab’s research, see nordicfoodlab.org

Facts

1. Insect hit list

There are more than 1900 edible insect species. The most commonly eaten insects are:

Beetles 31%

Caterpillars 18%

Bees, wasps and ants 14%

Grasshoppers, locusts and crickets 13%

Cicadas, leaf and planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs 10%

Termites 3%

Dragonflies 3%

Flies 2%

Other insects 5%

Source: FAO

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. The word derives from the Greek term éntomos, meaning insect, and phăgein, “to eat”.

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