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May 14, 2013

Insects Proven to be Critical in Fight Against World Hunger

by Kim Lewis

A study highlighting the critical role insects play in fighting world hunger was launched in Rome on Monday May 13.  It’s part of a three day meeting called the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition.

Researchers at the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, authored the study.  They said that forest insects are a major and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food.

In addition, the researchers noted that insect gathering and farming can not only offer employment and income for families, but insect farming has the potential to become a major contributor to commercial agriculture.

Eva Müller, the director of the Forests Economics Policy Products Division of the FAO, said the study is the first of its kind:  it provides a comprehensive review of which insects are being eaten, how they are processed and their nutritional value. 

She said edible insects are important because “two billion people in the world, that is, one-third of the world’s population already eat edible insects.  They eat them because they are delicious, and they are nutritious:  insects contain high levels of protein, and also high levels of certain minerals and vitamins that are very important.  And they also have a much lower environmental footprint than, for example, conventional livestock.” 

Müller said some of the most consumed insects are beetles; grasshoppers; locusts; crickets, and ants.  She added that many of the insect species that are known to us are edible.    

“At the moment most of the insects in the world that are being eaten are gathered in the wild.  So eventually if the demand goes up, and let’s say if the western world all of a sudden discovered that everybody wanted to eat insects, then there may be a problem of over-harvesting.  This is why it is very important to develop technologies to mass produce insects and to farm them,” explained Müller. 

She also pointed out that insect farming has the same concept of any other type of farming. The insects are raised in controlled environments including those that raise insects on agricultural waste. 

“So in the end,” she said, “there are good possibilities of developing technologies that are cost effective, and at the same time, also safe.  In that sense I think farming of insects has a future.”  

Müller emphasized that insect farming is something that should definitely be developed especially in view of an increasing global population.