Entomophagy: A Sustainable Future

Entomophagy: A Sustainable Future

The world population is ever expanding and the food upon which we rely is constant at production. However, natural factors such as climate change, energy crisis, decreasing soil fertility, incidence of pests and plant diseases, and man-made situations  increases food prices, non-availability of foods, lack of purchasing power of consumers, disparity in food distribution, and so on are many of the few responsible factors for food insecurity. Whether from a perspective of developing or developed countries, the entire global population is in need of alternative food sources. Therefore, searching for new available sources to substitute food can be viable and requisite step. Likewise, efforts for improving food supply through technologies would take some time for their application on a large scale to make them feasible/ practical, cost-effective and ecofriendly. Hence, the understanding and application of entomophagy comes into play.

Entomophagy, a Greek word which can be divided as ‘Entomon’ meaning ‘Insects’ and ‘Phagein’ meaning ‘To eat’ can be described as feeding behavior that includes insects. It is the practice of eating insects among humans. The egg, larvae, pupae and adults of certain insects have been eaten by humans from prehistoric times to the present day. Such a practice is still evident in many tropical countries where certain insect species grow to large size, and they are abundant and relatively easy to harvest year-round. Insects are excellent source of proteins, vitamins, fats and essential minerals. Therefore, insect’s consumption might help to revolutionaries’ food and feed insecurity and thus replace the convention animal source.  Hunger and malnutrition are serious problems in the ever-expanding human population. With the high rate at which the world population is growing, the world food supply should also grow at the same rate. Therefore, the search for new food sources including the identification and development of localized ethnic ones continues. At present, edible insects are a natural food resource to many ethnic groups in Asia, Africa, Mexico and South America where entomophagy can be sustainable and has economic, nutritional and ecological benefits for rural communities.

Around over 1900 species of insects are known world-wide to be part of human diets; some important groups include grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, grubs, wringed termites, bees, worms, ant brood, cicadas, and a variety of aquatic insects. Because entomophagy is widely practiced, and because it compares favorably with the nutrient and environmental aspects of conventional livestock rearing, it has the potential to contribute substantially to reducing undernutrition among an expanding global population.

Benefits of Entomophagy:

  1. Health

Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, beef, and even fish. Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. In many of the African countries, Maize (Zea mays) which lack in Lysine and Tryptophan is subsequently replaced by locusts which are rich in both. Thus, insects are incorporated into the traditional part of many regional and national diets.

Examples of energy content of different insect species

Common Name Scientific Name Energy content (kcal/100g fresh weight)
Australian plague locust Chortoicetes terminifera 499
Green (weaver) ant Oecophylla smaragdina 1272
Red-legged grasshopper Melanoplus femurrubrum 160
Yellow mealworm (larva) Tenebrio molitor 206
Yellow mealworm (adult) Tenebrio molitor 138
Termite Macrotermes subhyalinus 535
Leaf cutter ant Atta mexicana 404
Honey ant Myrmecocystus melliger 116
Field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus 120
Giant water bug Lethocerus indicus 165
Rice grasshopper Oxya japonica 149
Grasshopper Crytacanthacris tatarica 89
Domesticated silkworm Bombyx mori 94
Migratory locust Locusta migratoria 179

Crude protein content by insect order

Insect order Stage Range (% protein)
Coleoptera Adults and larvae 23-66
Lepidoptera Pupae and larvae 14-68
Hemiptera Adults and larvae 42-74
Homoptera Adults, larvae and eggs 45-57
Hymenoptera Adults, pupae, larvae and eggs 13-77
Odonata Adults and naiad 46-65
Orthoptera Adults and nymph 23-65

The above table clearly shows the significance which edible insects holds in terms of nutrition and diet.

  1. Environment

Insects promoted as food release relatively fewer amount of Greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches). Likewise, the ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs. Similarly, insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require land clearing to expand production. It has been proposed that edible insects could be reared on organic wastes such as manure, slurry and compost and then fed to livestock animals. This would help to process organic wastes and transform them into valuable alternative feedstocks for conventional livestock, instead of grain that might feed people directly, or grass, which requires large areas of pasture. Likewise, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).

  1. Livelihood

Insects harvesting/ rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society. Similarly, mini-livestock offer livelihood opportunities for both urban and rural people. Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Edible insects can be categorized in sustainable diets. Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impact which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life to present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally accepted, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritional adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources. Edible insects are a promising alternative to the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use for feedstock. To fully realize this potential, much work needs to be done by a wide range of stakeholders.

Entomophagy is still an incipient topic which is yet to proliferate around the world with more acceptance and diversion via incorporating various edible insect ingredients and staple food. The overall nutritional value of edible insects presents them to be a remarkable alternative for alleviating food insecurity and malnutrition in developing countries. Thus, a prolonged research and investigation on this subject is a prerequisite in order to build a sustainable and reviving future.

About the Author:
Jayanti Gautam ; M.Sc. Ag (Entomology)
Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Tribhuvan University
Kirtipur, Kathmandu

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