Edible bugs - the new beef?

Insect farming is economical and environmentally sustainable, they are high in protein and they live on agricultural waste. Marwa Abdel Hamid Shumo thinks: They are the best weapon to combat hunger

(c) Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ
Insects are of an outstanding protein quality and contain several amino acids. © Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ

Marwa Shumo

Marwa Shumo is an environment biotechnologist who obtained her undergraduate training at the University of Nizwa, Oman. Marwa is an expert on black soldier flies and their applications in livestock feed production and future food security.

Currently, the growing world population is at the verge of 7.5 billion. While this figure is projected to increase to around 10 billion by 2050, the demand for food is expected to increase by 60 percent. The growing population, coupled with emerging global economies, climate change, limited and scarce natural resources, over- and under-nutrition, and persistent poverty trigger us to question our current food production systems. According to the FAO et al. 2015 report “The State of Food Insecurity in the World” on the provisional estimates of undernourishment around the world, between 2014 and 2016, one in every nine people were undernourished in the world with the majority of hungry people living in the global south. The figure is extremely significant in sub-Saharan Africa where one in every four people is hungry: 23.2 percent.

 

Insects have short life cycles with high and quick reproduction rates, are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins that are essential for human health

 

In sub-Saharan Africa, insects can play a key role in enhancing food security for the following reasons. Insects have short life cycles with high and quick reproduction rates, are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins that are essential for human health. Recent studies reveled that edible insects are of an outstanding protein quality and contain several amino acids such as lysine, threonine and methionine with adequate quantities while such amino acids presence is cereal and legume-based diets is limited. Not only for direct human consumption, but insects are also a suitable alternative to traditional livestock feed taking into consideration the fact that poultry, fish and pig industries are the fastest growing agri-business in many developing countries.

 

However, the limited availability and high costs of protein additives such as soybeans, fish oil, fishmeal and seed cakes restrict such businesses from achieving their full potential. It is estimated that feed alone counts for around 60 percent of the costs of poultry, fish and pig production. It is no longer possible to depend on fishmeal, soybeans and cereals as protein sources due to their unsustainability. The use of such sources of protein create an over competition as they can be also used for direct human consumption. In addition, the availability of farmlands suitable for cultivation are rapidly declining. Furthermore, the populations of small pelagic forge fish that is used to produce fish meal and fish oil are declining due to overexploitation. For the reasons mentioned above, insects can play an important role in providing livestock feed with the needed protein and amino acids source.

 

(c) Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ
Insect farming is an environment friendly industry and can be used as a tool to mitigate climate change© Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ

In recent years and due to climate change and rapid loss of biodiversity, a global interest in shifting towards more environmental friendly agricultural systems emerged. In comparison to other livestock, insects convert organic matter into protein in a more efficient way leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, black soldier fly which is used in bio converting organic waste only emit a small fraction of carbon dioxide and no other greenhouse gases. Therefore, it is safe to say that insect farming is an environment friendly industry and can be used as a tool to mitigate climate change.

 

Despite the fact that edible insects are integrated with the diet of around two billion people around the world, many of them are not aware of the role insects play in enhancing food security

 

Although, the use of edible insects appears to be a solution for reaching towards a zero hunger world, there remains some challenges to be tackled. Despite the fact that edible insects are integrated with the diet of around two billion people around the world, many of them are not aware of the role insects play in enhancing food security. Furthermore, edible insects are often collected from the wild or through partially domesticated informal systems leading to the absence of controlled insects farming production methods and systems. Eventually, this will lead to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. Not to forget, there is a total lack of a proper institutional framework to regulate and document edible insects.

 

There is a current need in conducting proper research in order to obtain a solid understanding related to edible insects’ species most suitable for mass rearing including their breeding, production management and methods for disease prevention and control. In addition, entrepreneurs and investors must find the production edible insects along the value chain a lucrative industry in order for mass rearing to succeed. Research findings will also lead to the development of regulations and policy frameworks surrounding food safety and trade matters at both national and international levels.

 

(c) Christoph Püschner/Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe
In sub-Saharan Africa, insects can play a key role in enhancing food security © Christoph Püschner/Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

Since its establishment in the year 1970, The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) - an international scientific research institute headquartered in the Kenyan capital Nairobi – maintained a key strategy of remaining alert to the emerging developmental challenges facing Africa and then identifying possibilities of using insects to find solutions for these challenges.

 

icipe has been engaged in challenges related to the use of insects for food and feed since the year 2014 when it prepared an inventory titled “African edible insects for food and feed: inventory, diversity, commonalities and contribution to food security” which was published in the new Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. Furthermore, icipe established the Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses (INSEFF) program, as the umbrella steering and overseeing its insects for food and feed related activities. This program includes four projects: GREEiNSECT (Mass-rearing Insects for Greener Protein Supply); INSFEED (Integrating Insects in Poultry and Fish Feed in Kenya and Uganda); ILIPA (Improving Livelihoods by Increasing Livestock Production in Africa) and EntoNutri (Developing and Implementing Insect-based Products to Enhance Food and Nutritional Security in Sub-Saharan Africa).

(c) Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ
During the live cooking shows with the celebrity chef Frank Ochmann, visitors not only learnt about the way insects are prepared and cooked © Gudrun Barenbrock/GIZ

 

The EntoNutri project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany and is being implemented by icipe in partnership with the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn and the Food Security Center, University of Hohenheim, both in Germany in collaboration with national agricultural research systems partners from Kenya and Uganda. The initiative is focusing certain insects’ species that were selected on the basis of their growing popularity as food in Kenya and Uganda. In addition, the project aims to support the participation of women along the value chain and assessing nutritional attributes based on the unique needs of women, girls and infants.

 

It is not only one of our interests but rather our duty to multi-plicate the knowledge we gained through our research findings and share it with the general public

 

Our participation at Berlin‘s International Green Week 2018 (IGW 2018) within the activities of the Advisory Service on Agricultural Research for Development (Beratungsgruppe Entwicklungsorientierte Agrarforschung, BEAF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was a response to the ever growing attention that insects as food and feed is capturing globally. It is not only one of our interests but rather our duty to multi-plicate the knowledge we gained through our research findings and share it with the general public i.e. the expected future consumers of edible insects.

 

At the BEAF booth in the hall of BMZ, we presented key facts and figures related to the environmental sustainability and nutritional value of insects’ consumption in the form of a dining table that the fair visitors could sit at and try edible insects while listening to a briefing related to our research activities and future expectations. In addition, we hosted several edible insects living cooking shows with the celebrity chef Frank Ochmann. During the live cooking shows, visitors not only learnt about the way insects are prepared and cooked but they also had the chance to engage in a discussion and listen to some feedback from both a researcher and a chef’s perspectives. We have noticed from our interactions during the IGW 2018 the huge public concern in Germany related to finding alternative environmentally sustainable and secured agricultural systems. However, the consumption of edible insects in the developed world might be limited by the yuck factor related to cultural perceptions surrounding insects.  A challenge that we might still need time to overcome in order to reach our goal of a zero hunger world.

 

 

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