The world has a problem with food.
Nine billion mouths will need feeding by 2050.
Double the amount of food currently produced will be needed, the UN predict, as more people in more countries are lifted above the breadline.
But producing this volume of food using current practices is environmentally dangerous.
Nine billion palates reared on a meat addiction means higher CO2 emissions from cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep farming. The livestock industry is already responsible for 15% of global CO2 emissions. We can’t afford to watch this figure increase.
As more people grow more hungry, experts fear the environment may buckle under the pressures of traditional agricultural methods.
Land is scarce, water scarcer.
Humanity needs to fix its food problem, and fast.
Current farming practices are environmentally stressful. From the energy and water needed to make animal feed to the gases produced from animals’ digestive systems, the livestock industry costs the planet dearly.
Figures from the UN suggest that many countries will not change their meat-eating habits any time soon. Although per capita consumption of meat is not projected to change, the increase in population means many more thousand tonnes of meat will be produced.
Beef consumption in the US, China and India in 2024 is projected to be around almost 22 million tonnes, which adds up to 1.5 trillion kg of CO2 emissions, more than three times as much CO2 as the EU produced in 2010.
These eating habits, in a world approaching climate disaster, are environmentally unsustainable.
As climate change means sub-Saharan countries face increasingly unpredictable weather, traditional farming looks like an unstable and insufficient method to feed booming populations.
A solution may be on the horizon, however. Edible insects.
For the western world, the idea of insects being the next great world food founders on a cultural revulsion (see our video below), but for many in the developing world they already provide a sustainable, nourishing and cheap food source.
Dr Sunday Ekesi, Principal Scientist at Nairobi’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) says that insects are an ideal replacement for traditional livestock.
“The livestock sector is a great contributor to carbon-related problems. We are are hoping that insects should be another way of minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.”
“Production of insects is not really energy-consuming, as such. When we look at the feed, for instance, to produce 1kg of beef you need 25kg of feed while, for the cricket production system that we’ve established here in Kenya, we need 2.5kg maximum to produce 1 kg of crickets.”
Insects are cheap to rear, easy to prepare and comparably nutritious as meat. For developing countries, they are a useful export. A greater number and variety of insects can be grown and harvested in hot, wet countries compared to the cold of Europe.
Dr Ekesi says that the entry barriers for new insect producers are low.
“To start a cricket colony, for instance, especially the domestic one that we have been promoting, you need just between two and five pairs of males and females. That is sufficient. The cost of that is very minimal compared to livestock.
“The momentum that we have, especially with interest from the private sector and the youth and their demand for employment, we see ourselves being overwhelmed by demand.”
We spoke to one man trying to sell insects to the UK
Shami Radia is co-founder of eatgrub.co.uk, an online edible insect retailer.
Radia says that British squeamishness is no excuse for not giving insects a try.
“There are cultures that have been eating insects and enjoying insects for a long time, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be.”
Shami says if westerners are still put off by eating entire grubs, insect flour is always an option.
“People who are reluctant to try a whole insect are more willing to try a product which has cricket flour, so you get all the benefits of the insect but you don’t see them.”
Time to find your insect match?
But what does an insect farm look like?
A cricket farm can be located anywhere in the home— a closet in your bedroom, or a wooden box in the garage, backyard or a normal room.
However, the right conditions for breeding and growth must be maintained— a temperature of between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius and moisture.
Make sure the sides of the high-sided box are well-ventilated and smooth so that the insects cannot climb and escape.
As well as air, put a shallow water tray in the farm for the insects to drink without drowning.
Once set up, put 500 crickets in the farm. These can be bought in a pet store or online shops.
Feed the insects on plants like cucumber, morning glory, and pumpkin for vitamins and chicken for proteins.
After 30 day, place a tray with thin top soil where females will lay eggs. The environment must be kept moist for the insects. Spray water on the soil every after 24 hours.
Once laid, remove the tray and keep it incubated in a hot, humid environment (90 percent relative humidity) until the eggs hatch ( normally within 10 days).
Beware that the eggs will not hatch if they are left in the cold. Keep them warm all the time.
The babies, which will be about the size of a pinhead, need to be kept in a separate container until they are big enough for the main farm.
Feed them protein-rich foods like chicken, and they’ll grow quickly. After four weeks, they will reach full size.
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