Conference ‘Insects to feed the world’

Conference ‘Insects to feed the world’

The Flying Food Project was heavily represented at the conference ‘Insects to Feed the World’ in Wageningen. Delegations from Kenyan, Ugandan and Dutch partners were present, TNO had a stand highlighting the project, and the project organised a break-out session on the rearing of crickets.

Over 450 experts and entrepreneurs from numerous sectors and 45 different countries buzz and swarm around. They attend the first international conference on Insects to Feed the World, hosted by FAO and Wageningen University. The agenda is broad, ranging from the historical perspectives of using insects in all continents, the potential for food security and consumer insights, to legislation on use of insects for feed. Given the large number of issues on the agenda, the multi-actor participation (including the private sector) and the large number of questions raised it is clear that the topic represents a new agricultural sector with great potential but also numerous challenges.

Could insects on the menu be a sustainable answer to a hotter, more crowded earth? Insects are highly efficient at rapidly converting waste into usable protein. And protein sourcing is among the biggest challenges for future food security, besides the issue of distribution. However, in large parts of the world insects generate a so-called ‘ yuck’ factor among consumers. Legislation on animal feed is very strict due to public doubts about GMO’s and scandals such as the BSE crisis that stroke the cattle production chain. There is still a long way to go for broad consumer acceptance and tailor-made legislation to enable insects for food and feed.

Asia definitely is leading when it comes to consuming but also rearing insects. In Thailand for example at least 20.000 farmers are rearing crickets for consumption in a financial sustainable way. An existing and growing consumer market forms a strong basis for this, further supported by optimal rearing conditions such as temperature and availability of cheap labour force. When it comes to knowledge management and development Africa has as strong hold with the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), which has a track record of over 40 years, working on insects from plagues to edible insects.

The growing believe in the potential of insects as a sustainable source of food and feed is demonstrated by the increased number of research programs and pilot projects, representing a range of sectors, approaches and interests. Within this large number of initiatives the TNO lead Flying Food coalition holds a specific position. This is due to the combination of a commercial approach with the social objective of reducing poverty and improving nutrition, while building on expertise of partners and external relations. ICCO-Cooperation functions as a linking pin between Kenyan, Ugandan and Dutch partners and leads work packages on value chain development, monitoring and learning.

The fundament has been laid for a global insect community with a clear roadmap. The conference stressed that on-going research is needed. At the same time there was broad consensus that Insects have always been a part of human diets and in Africa > 500 species are consumed. The use of insects as food and feed must be promoted in the face of changing consumption patterns, impacts of climate change and the growing scarcity of water and land. Although it is an agricultural sector in its infancy insects for food and feed can clearly contribute to food security. From ICCO side we add that access to relevant knowledge, resources and markets for small (female) farmers and base of the pyramid consumers is crucial also for this new agricultural sector.