“War-ravaged Somalia is hurtling towards a second famine in three years that could be prevented if donors increased funding, Philippe Lazzarini, United Nations‘ humanitarian coordinator for Somalia said. Lazzarini said rapidly rising malnutrition and food shortages across the country resemble the warning signs which preceded the 2011 famine in which about 260,000 people died.” Reported Reuters in August.
The UN estimates about 350,000 people to be at risk of malnutrition due to insufficient funds, drought and conflict. While the UN is right to highlight a looming humanitarian crisis, dependency on aid and thousands of Somalis finding themselves in feeding centres is not a long-term answer to the recurring Somali famine. It is a welcomed relief but a more permanent solution must be found and this lies in changing the dietary culture and finding innovative and sustainable food solutions.
Here is a an unconventional but sustainable and cost-effective idea: farming nutritional rich insects! And in a country still at the tail-end of a long civil war, farming insects requires less land, water and capital investment.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has a wealth of information and resources on edible insects and they state on their website: “Edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. Insects have a high food conversion rate, e.g. crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Besides, they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock. Insects can be grown on organic waste. Therefore, insects are a potential source for conventional production (mini-livestock) of protein, either for direct human consumption, or indirectly in recomposed foods (with extracted protein from insects); and as a protein source into feedstock mixtures.”
Read on for more details on how insect farming works and the Canadian brothers pioneering environmentally friendly and healthier future foods.
‘The sound of thousands of crickets can be a natural symphony,’ says Ryan Goldin who seems to enjoy the high-pitch shrill of the teeming insects. And all of them are destined for the dinner table.
Welcome to Next Millennium Farms – the first industrial-sized edible insect farm in North America.
Within this nondescript warehouse in Ontario, Ryan and his brothers Jarrod and Darren, are plotting a revolution which they hope will radically change the way we see food – or rather what we see as food.
The brothers hope their bugs will play their part in a world where food is becoming increasingly scarce and the traditional methods by which we make it increasingly unsustainable.
There are already over 7 billion mouths to feed on the planet. That figure could hit nearly 11 billion by 2050, according to the UN. This will put an increasing strain on land and water resources which are already under pressure.
Traditional livestock farming is more heavily reliant on land and water than insects – which also happen to be highly nutritious. This is why farmers, entrepreneurs and the food industry are taking a more serious look at insects, not as pests, but as food.
Ryan takes me on a tour of the cricket pens. Staring down row after row, it looks rather like an IKEA-warehouse.
The insects get their exercise by running around on vertical egg cartons. A long but shallow trough of water runs right down the middle. Ryan lifts up an egg carton sitting on top to reveal thousands more crickets which scatter like a water ripple when disturbed. They slowly plump up from munching on small egg cups full of grain.
The Goldins also raise mealworms at a separate facility, but the brothers admit that they aren’t quite as ‘popular’ as crickets, and make up just 10% of their business. Ryan uses the squished cricket to walk me through some basic anatomy.
‘This species is called the bandit cricket. They have six legs and very long antennae. Fully-grown they are about 3/4 of an inch.’
‘It’s definitely a huge challenge for the brain to accept what is going on. Once you can get past that mental block, the flavours are absolutely delicious’ Darren Goldin, co-founder
After adult crickets mate, the female lays thousands of eggs from which new crickets spring. It takes six weeks for crickets to mature and bring to harvest. This process is much shorter than in beef farming where it can take up to three years for cattle to be ready for slaughter.
Crickets need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein. They also require much less land and water than traditional livestock. Though the Goldins have only been in production for six months, they have already outgrown this 5,000 square foot facility.
However hard it is to fathom, they say they can’t keep up with demand. They currently ship 8000lbs worth of crickets a month – roasted and ground down into a fine flour or powder – to mostly U.S. companies for use in energy bars, baked goods and snacks. Their influence is beginning to be felt – from coast to coast.
Exo foods uses NMF’s flour for their protein-rich Cacao Nut and Peanut Butter and Jelly bars. They have been selling thousands of bars online – but for $2.99US are now available in at least one Manhattan branch of US supermarket chain Fairway.
Tim Zerkel, manager/buyer for Seattle’s Central Coop is so pleased with his recent order of NMF products, he’s ordered more of Bugs Bistro line of roasted cricket and barbecued mealworms which are proving to be a big hit at $1.69 a packet.
The Goldins have ambitious plans to increase their operations. By the end of 2015, they expect to move into a one-million square foot facility and increase staff from 10 to 80.
Darren and Ryan, both former Environmental Studies students, had hands-on experience rearing insects through their reptile farming and feed business. They began by raising ball pythons, 8 foot long snakes, to sell on as pets. Then they realised that raising reptile food – insects, rats and mice – was far more profitable.
But they were keen to start a business with their older brother Jarrod, a chiropractor, now NMF’s unofficial head of marketing. Jarrod says the brothers had been talking about the potential for insect farming when two news stories caught their eyes in 2013.
A UN report said that an increase in insect eating could reduce world hunger and fight pollution. Insects, said the report, were high in protein, good fats, amino acids, calcium and vitamin B.
A few months later, McGill University students won the prestigious Hult prize – for showing how insects could be a popular and viable food source. Former US President Bill Clinton presented them with the million dollar award for the students’ work towards fighting food insecurity and helping undernourished communities.
‘If I said to somebody 60 days ago, I’m going to give this prize this year to someone who wants to process and sell edible insects — to empower rather than devour — they’d have laughed,’ said Clinton at the time. He joked about taking a break from his vegan diet to enjoy ‘lime cricket chips’, one of the ideas the students had to make eating insects more appealing.
Read more at the Daily Mail.