Aly Moore is the founder of bugible.com and eatbugsevents.com where she is working to raise awareness of the growing edible insect industry as a more sustainable and healthier alternative to animal agriculture.
To bee or not to bee? This is the question of 2017. Bees are one of over 2,000 species of edible insects, and a 2016 market analysis and forecasting report by Research and Markets projects that the global edible insects market will grow to $1.53 billion by 2021. In short, the market says, “Bee!”
With the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, new agricultural strategies are needed in order to produce significantly more food on roughly the same amount of arable land—all while using fewer of the world's precious resources. Edible bugs may be a crucial component to meeting these challenges. Insects are packed with nutrients, insect farming is more environmentally friendly than traditional animal agriculture, and bugs can make for good business.
The entomophagy industry has all the necessary ingredients to to cook up an exciting paradigm shift: rapid population growth, rising popularity of protein alternatives, low capital investment needs, low disease risk, and comparatively limited water and land needs—just to name a few. The biggest obstacle? The ick factor.
Western diets relegate bugs to a novelty food. They’re eaten as a joke, on a dare, or while on vacation to places where bugs are more commonly consumed. However, if we can cast aside our Western sensibilities long enough to assess the huge potential that insects provide, a whole new food system could unfold before us.
More than one in 10 people around the world suffer from hunger and nearly one in three are malnourished. Meanwhile, a third of all food we produce is wasted. Not to mention that in the last 40 years, one third of our arable land has been lost to erosion or pollution. There is a moral imperative to reassess how we tackle our mounting food system issues.
By any enviro-metric, insects will come out ahead of traditional livestock. Livestock production creates massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Globally it amounts to more than automobile emissions. By comparison, insect farming is more efficient and environmentally sustainable. The FAO reports that the average GHGE produced for each 1KG of protein breaks down as follows:
- Beef: 2,850g
- Pork 1,130g
- Chicken: 300g
- Cricket: 1g
Raising insects could also be a smarter way to utilize land. They can be raised in almost any climate or environment and require less land, water, feed, and energy than traditional protein sources. Seventy percent of arable land goes to meat production—either directly for pasturing or for growing feed for livestock. Each KG of beef produced requires 200 square meters of arable land; pork requires 50 square meters; chicken requires 45; crickets require 15.
Additionally, insects pack a much larger nutritional punch. Gram by gram, they have more iron and calcium than beef, chicken, and pork. Insects have a significant protein content, ranging from 20-76 percent of dry matter, and most insects are packed with essential vitamins and minerals too.
Given the nutritional and environmental advantages of bug farming, it’s no wonder that the entomophagy industry is projected to grow in the coming years. Entomo-entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on this market opportunity will be best off following an increasingly trodden path:
- They will study the current edible bug farming practices and identify best practices.
- They will search for industry niches or ways to innovate beyond standard farming practices.
- They will seek to improve upon microbial control and data collection practiced by current farmers.
- They will aim to contribute to the evolution of variable food products and potential applications of bug materials.
I urge these companies to also explore the resources available outside of just the edible insect industry—to exit the echo chambers that often encapsulate niche industries—and integrate with other innovative leaders in agritech and sustainability.