“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly; they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” said the FAO’s book, Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.
“Insects are abundant and they are a valuable source of protein and minerals,” added FAO forest economics advisor Eva Mueller said at the launch of the report in Rome.
“If we think about edible insects, there’s a huge potential that has essentially not been tapped yet. Most insects are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming, for example, which is something that could be explored in view of a growing population.”
When speaking at an earlier event in Manila, Cribb had advocated pretty much the same if the world couldn’t double food production to feed a projected 9bn people worldwide by 2050. Eventually, people's diets will change to adapt to changing world food production, he predicted.
Asia alone can offer 1,500 species of edible insects and many countries like China have already begun cooking and serving insects as street food.
“You can grow [insects] in farm—the Chinese are already doing this. You go to a market in China, they're full of crickets and bumblebees, locusts and God knows what that are actually being reared, and they use crop waste. So if you get hold of old vegetables, you can feed them to animals, you can feed them to insects,” explained Cribb.
Moreover, he believes there is just as much potential in uncultivated vegetable varieties—of which he estimated around 25,000 are available to be consumed. These include saluyot, a flowering plant that the Philippines government is advocating for greater propagation.
"We have not yet begun to explore this planet in terms of its culinary potential or its agricultural potential,” continued Cribb. “Many of these are eaten by indigenous societies but nobody else knows about them, some of them people haven't event tried eating at all. We have got to explore our home planet before we get too much on processed food, many of these things are very healthy."
It is one thing promoting the consumption of insects and another thing persuading people to eat what they might find distasteful, and the FAO’s report did recognise the “consumer disgust” factor that comes from adopting insects as a protein source. Accordingly, it acknowledged that education is necessary for adoption.
“Consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries,” Muller said. “Nevertheless, history has shown that dietary patterns can change quickly, particularly in the globalised world.”
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