One major and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food that comes from forests are insects, according to a new study FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) launched at the forests for food security and nutrition conference. It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. Insect gathering and farming can offer employment and cash income, for now mostly at the household level but also potentially in industrial operations.
“We are not saying that people should be eating bugs,” said Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, which co-authored “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security”.
“We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed,” Muller explained.
So bugs are edible and fantastic for food and feed security but the UN FAO is not saying people should eat bugs. They just have a study which shows how efficient and beneficial bugs can be.
Farming insects sustainably could help avoid over-harvesting, which could affect more prized species. Some species, such as meal worms, are already produced at commercial levels, since they are used in niche markets such as pet food, for zoos and in recreational fishing.
If production were to be further automated, this would eventually bring costs down to a level where industry would profit from substituting fishmeal, for example, with insect meal in livestock feed. The advantage would be an increase in fish supplies available for human consumption.
Because they are cold-blooded, insects don’t use energy from feed to maintain body temperature. On average, insects use just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kilo of insect meat. Cattle, at the other end of the spectrum, require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.
In addition, insects produce a fraction of emissions such as methane, ammonia, climate-warming greenhouse gases and manure, all of which contaminate the environment. In fact, insects can be used to break down waste, assisting in the composting processes that deliver nutrients back to the soil while also diminishing foul odours.