Main visual illustrating our blog post about eating insects

Insect Farming for Food Security: How Insects Are Bridging the Protein Gap in Diets

In a world facing the challenges of population growth and environmental degradation, finding sustainable solutions to feed the growing population is crucial. One such solution is insect farming, a practice that has been present for centuries but is now gaining renewed attention for its potential to address food security concerns.

In this blog, we explore the world of insect farming and its role in bridging the protein gap in diets around the world, with a special focus on the African continent.

Entomophagy: A Global Tradition and Sustainable Food Source

The practice of eating insects is also called entomophagy. Although humans have been consuming insects as a part of their diets for millennia, entomophagy, particularly human entomophagy, has been taboo in many Westernized societies. Consequently, insect farming for food and animal feed has been absent from major agricultural innovations in farming practices. Insects have also been overlooked in agricultural research and development agendas globally. However, insect consumption is not new in many regions. Globally, insect-eating is practised regularly by 2 billion people worldwide. Over 1,900 edible insect species have been documented, primarily in tropical countries. Commonly eaten insect groups include:

  • Caterpillars – They are eaten in many cultures, especially in Africa, South America, and Asia. They are often fried, boiled, or roasted.
  • Bees – They are consumed in Asia and parts of Africa. Bee larvae and pupae are often eaten raw or cooked in various dishes.
  • Wasps – Also consumed in Asia, wasps are considered a delicacy in Japan and are often eaten roasted or fried.
  • Locusts – They are considered a traditional food in some cultures, particularly in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
  • Flies – While not as commonly consumed as some other insects, flies are eaten in certain cultures, particularly in Africa. They are usually cooked or used as an ingredient in various dishes.

Nutritional Value of Insects

The nutritional composition of insects is very similar to the composition of traditional meat sources like chicken, beef, pork, and fish. In fact, insects often have higher protein levels per 100 grams than some types of meat, with many species containing over 60% crude protein content. However, the nutritional profile of edible insects varies significantly because of the wide variety of species.

Even among similar insect species, nutritional values can differ depending on factors such as the insect’s metamorphic stage (especially relevant for species undergoing complete metamorphosis, such as ants, bees, and beetles), as well as their diets. For example, beetles can contain anywhere from 23 to 66 grams of protein per 100 grams, dragonflies range from 46 to 65 grams of protein per 100 grams, and termites typically have 32 to 38 grams of protein.

Similar to other food items, the nutritional content of edible insects can be influenced by preparation and processing methods, such as drying, boiling, or frying, prior to consumption. So, incorporating certain insect species into a mixed diet with staple foods can enhance the overall protein quality due to supplementation effects.

In text visual illustrating blog post about insect farming

Addressing Misconceptions

Despite the numerous benefits of insect farming, there are still some concerns and misconceptions. One common misconception is the perception of insects as unclean or unsafe for consumption. However, strict regulations ensure the safety and quality of insect-based products. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects purchased from reputable suppliers and farmed properly are as safe, if not safer, than other protein sources. Despite this, full consumer acceptance of insect-eating has not yet been achieved. Nevertheless, education, awareness campaigns, and collaborative projects such as INCiTiS-FOOD are helping to change perceptions and normalise insect consumption.

Environmental and Economic Benefits of Insect Farming

Normalising insect consumption is very important because insects have the potential to play a significant role in addressing global food security challenges, because of considerably fewer greenhouse gas emissions, with only a few insect groups like termites and cockroaches producing methane. As the world’s population continues to grow, traditional protein sources such as livestock may become unsustainable. Unlike livestock production, insect farming does not necessarily require land clearing for expansion, as it can be conducted in various environments, including urban areas. Insects offer a possible alternative, especially in regions where access to protein-rich foods is limited. Insect farming can provide a reliable source of nutrition, helping to combat hunger in vulnerable populations.

Furthermore, the economic opportunities afforded by insect farming can empower small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs, creating sustainable livelihoods and stimulating economic growth. It presents a low-tech, low-capital investment opportunity that can significantly impact livelihoods, particularly for marginalised groups. By offering alternative income sources and reducing dependence on traditional agricultural methods, insect rearing can diversify livelihoods and enhance resilience to economic hardship. As a result, insect farming emerges as a promising pathway for job creation, ending poverty and empowerment, and contributing to economic development and social well-being at local and global scales.

Innovative Agricultural Technologies for Sustainable Food Security in Africa

According to the World Bank, insect and hydroponic farming emerge as promising solutions to ending food insecurity and hunger in Africa. When it comes to the African continent, a particularly concerning situation is in East Africa, where 7.2 million individuals are at risk of starvation and another 26.5 million confront acute food insecurity. However, innovative agricultural technologies offer hope in reversing this trend. Insect and hydroponic farming prove cost-effective, reducing the need for food, animal feed, and fertilisers, thereby conserving both farmers’ funds and government reserves.

These innovative approaches not only strengthen Africa’s food system but also align with the principles of a circular economy. By harnessing organic waste to feed insects and utilising insect waste as organic fertilisers, these methods mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, conserve biodiversity, and enhance soil health, thus promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

In text visual illustrating our blog post about insect farming

Future of Insect Farming and INCiTiS-FOOD's Innovative Approach

The future of insect farming looks promising, but challenges remain. Regulatory frameworks need to be developed to ensure the safety and quality of insect-based products. Achieving consumers’ acceptance is also crucial, requiring more education on the topic. Additionally, scaling up insect farming operations will require investment in research, technology, and infrastructure.

However, with the growing recognition of insects as a sustainable protein source, the prospects for insect farming are bright, especially with projects like INCiTiS-FOOD. This EU-funded project adopts innovative agricultural methods such as aquaponics, hydroponics, and insect farming. When it comes to insect rearing, the primary focus in the living labs is on cultivating black soldier flies, recognized for their high protein content, abundance of vitamins, and minerals, these insects are suitable for both human consumption and as feed for livestock and aquaculture.

However, our project extends beyond the mere adoption of sustainable protein production methods. It serves as a platform for collaboration among six African nations, aiming to enhance farming practices across the continent and strengthen food security in the process.

For the latest updates on our journey, be sure to visit our Newsroom.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *