ROME, Italy (15 May, 2013) – More than 1,900 insect species form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people, providing a nutritious food source high in protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content, scientists have said in a new report.
In developing countries, some of the poorest members of society — often women and landless people — can easily gather, cultivate and sell insects, improving their own diets and generating income, according to the report titled “Edible Insects: Future prospects for Food and Feed Security”, released at the Forests for Food Security and Nutrition conference hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome.
Insects high in zinc, iron and fat, can be harvested sustainably to improve diets and land-use management, said co-author Arnold van Huis, a professor of entomology at Wageningen University in Wageningen, Netherlands.
“At the moment, 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is used for livestock, including producing feed, and you need much less land if you farm insects, and they produce much less greenhouse gases,” he said.
U.N. data indicate that the global population will rise from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050, adding pressure on forests — already facing high rates of deforestation in tropical regions — and increasing concerns over food security.
“A rampant increase in agricultural production could encroach on nutritional food sources found in forests,” said Terry Sunderland, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and one of the authors of a new paper on food security, nutrition and the role of forests.
Already, at least 870 million people go hungry and more than 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger,” according to U.N. food agencies, while at least 1.4 billion people are obese or overweight, many suffering from such related non-communicable diseases as diabetes and heart problems.
Insects are readily available, very nutritious and very much under-utilized, said Monica Ayieko, a professor of consumer sciences in the department of food security at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Bondo Town, Kenya.
The key is to try and transform insects into a more acceptable product that people will easily learn to identify with crackers, biscuits, muffins, meatloaf and sausages, Ayieko said.
“People should produce their own, so they don’t destroy the forests,” she said, adding that some insects are difficult to preserve without refrigeration.
“When there is famine the insects will be there so it’s a good alternative for food security.”
In Copenhagen, the Noma restaurant serves two types of ants and the chef is working on a recipe for fermented crickets, Van Huis said, adding “In the western world you have to make them delicious.”
“This tradition of eating insects has gone on forever,” said Ayieko.
“We think it’s no longer cool to eat insects, but now that Europeans are eating them, it makes it easier to encourage people to supplement their diets this way.”
Read the FAO conference summary: Forests and trees outside forests are essential for global food security and nutrition