Promoting the contribution of edible forest INSECTS in assuring

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					FAO Forestry Department programme:

“Promoting the contribution of edible
    forest INSECTS in assuring



                   Information flyer
                     October 2010

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

For approximately 2.5 billion people, mainly in Africa and Asia, eating insects is a common
dietary habit, in a similar way as eating meat or fish. Particularly for the one billion hungry
people on this planet, insects are an unique opportunity to supplement their protein needs as
well as to provide them with income earning activities based on processing and sales of
gathered insects from the wild, mostly in forests.

A large number of insect species are readily consumed in most parts of the world. At least a
1000 species of insects are eaten worldwide, mainly in developing countries. Edible insects
constitute high quality food for humans, livestock, poultry and fish. Because insects are cold
blooded, they 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 than conventional
livestock. In many cases insects can be grown on organic waste. Therefore, edible insects are
a serious alternative for conventional production or other animal based protein sources, either
for direct human consumption, or indirectly as feedstock.

Almost all of the human consumption is from gathering insects living in the wild. This is
mostly done by women and children, in forests and other areas known to be free of insecticide
use. The insects are used for home consumption, but partly also for sale at local markets. Only
in a few countries, such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, some insects are “farmed”. In
general however, little is known about how to realise the full potential of insects as a food

FAO is taking steps in drawing attention to this valuable food source, such as mapping world
wide activities in this field, proposing a communication strategy (publication and congress),
funding field projects (ex. TCP/LAO/3301 in Laos) and by outlining the opportunities of
insects as a viable source of protein. In the developing world, a re-evaluation of the food
resource is required, while in the western world processing technology needs to be developed
in order to make it an acceptable food item. The interest of using insects as a human food
source is increasing, as testified by the wide media attention given to this topic over the last
years (for ex. the 2010 article in Science1).

Work done by FAO’s Forestry Department sofar:

The Non-Wood Forest Products Programme (NWFP) of FAO’s Forestry Department has been
instrumental in raising awareness on the huge potential of (forest-gathered) insects as a
valuable protein source to supplement human diets for forest dependent peoples or for use as
feed stock. In 2004, a study was published presenting the contribution of edible forest insects
to food security: the example of caterpillars in Central Africa2. Its summary and conclusions
were taken up and amplified through the UK based ODI Wildlife Policy Briefing Nr. 33 which
was instrumental to further raise awareness on the important role of edible insects to food
security of forest dependent people among decision makers in forestry and in the bush meat
crisis discussions. In follow-up, the FAO organized in 2008 an international expert
consultation on the role of insects for food security in Chiang Mai, Thailand (“Forest Insects

  Vogel, G. 2000. For More Protein, Filet of Cricket. Science 237: 811.

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

as Food: Humans Bite Back”)4. Among its key recommendations was a call to FAO to
elaborate a holistic and global policy to promote the role of edible insects for food security
and to draw up an action plan for the organization. To continue this momentum, from
February 2010 onwards the NWFP Programme of FAO’s Forestry Department initiated the
elaboration of a draft policy and action plan on Edible Forest Insects for the FAO in close
collaboration with the Wageningen University of the Netherlands. At the same time, an FAO
funded 2 year field project in Laos started to promote the farming of edible insects, their
sustainable collection from wild sources, awareness raising, nutrition studies, extension, food
safety and marketing of insects (TCP/LAO/3301: Sustainable insect farming and harvesting
for better nutrition, improved food security, and household income generation).

FAO’s Forestry Department Programme on Edible Forest Insects

As a first step towards achieving a consolidated policy paper for the full FAO, a concept note
and corresponding action plan is under development for inclusion into the FAO Forestry
Department Programme Work Plan for the biennium 2012-13. The majority of edible insects
are gathered from the wild and often in forests. Therefore the policy paper will first raise
awareness within the FAO member countries on this important and underutilized resource as
well as guide the organization and participating partners for the collection of required baseline
information on edible forest insects world-wide. Specific activities of the programme on
edible insects include:

Information gathering, networking and awareness raising

A re-valorisation of edible insects as a valuable food source will be necessary. Issues that
need to be stressed in awareness raising are: 1) entomophagy is an accepted practice in most
countries of the world; 2) the quality of the food source is excellent from a nutritional point of
view; 3) the insects’ ecological footprint is smaller than that of conventional livestock; 4) it is
a safe food source provided that hygienic production procedures are taken into account.

Relevant donors and agencies dealing with food & nutrition programmes and food security
need to be made aware of the opportunities concerning edible insects, and that it may be
worthwhile to invest in its development. Entomophagy has been neglected by research and
development organizations, and a call is made for its full incorporation into their activities.
National governments, particularly those in developing countries, need to be made aware that
they have a valuable, under-explored food resource within their countries. Relevant
government agencies also need to be made aware of the environmental benefits related to the
rearing of edible insects for both human consumption as well as feed for livestock, poultry or

A web-based database of all experts working on insects for human and animal feed including
listing of relevant references published is soon to become available. A major technical
publication in the FAO Forestry Department NWFP Series to clarify the contribution of

  Workshop “Edible Forest Insects: humans bite back”: focus on Asia-Pacific Resources and
their potential for development, 19-21 February 2008, Chiang Mai, Thailand. FAO, Bangkok.

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

edible insects is being drafted and expected to be published early 2011. This publication
covers the following issues: western attitude, groups of edible insects, nutritional issues, food
safety, sustainability (biodiversity, integrated pest management, sustainable harvesting),
environment (food conversion, greenhouse gas emissions), from harvesting to rearing,
livelihood strategies and marketing, and a number of case studies. The publication is also
intended to improve the technical baseline information in support for a global expert
consultation on entomophagy (planned for 2013) to assess current status of and research on
edible insects in a variety of topics and fields of science. The consultation is intended to
create the first chance to establish cooperation between interested countries, relevant
institutions and private sector initiatives. This global consultation will help boost interactions
among stakeholders. The above mentioned databases will become operational by the end of
2010 on the Edible Insects web portal (

Strengthening national capacities to develop programmes and projects dealing with/
including entomophagy for/ in food security strategies

Some donors have sponsored research projects to further the potential of edible insects in
developing countries: DFID on the mopane worm5 in southern Africa and DANIDA6 on
weaver ants in Thailand. Currently FAO is implementing a TCP project in Laos on edible
insects ( “TCP/LAO/330). This is a follow-up of the FAO workshop in Chiang Mai (“Forest
Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back”) that recommended FAO to take a more active role in
entomophagy. However, in general this food resource has been neglected. Insects
consumption being a common practice in most developing countries should make it not too
difficult to get it into the national research and development agenda’s of FAO member
countries. It may also invite donor countries to invest resources into its development through
funding field projects in developing countries. Major issues to be addressed are sustainable
harvesting, post harvest activities, marketing, and the development of rearing techniques.

Developing institutional synergies

National capacities in interested FAO member countries will benefit from institutional
synergies among relevant agencies world-wide. As a first step in this direction, the FAO
NWFP Programme made a worldwide inventory of the activities on edible insects as human
food and animal feed. The information received on research and development on
entomophagy allows developing synergies among agencies and organizations. It is the
intention to make this list publicly available to all practitioners in this field, such that
collaboration between institutions can be sought. For example, from Mexico we learned that it
was already intended to shortlist all experts on insects as animal and fish feed. A list of all
publications in this field will also be published.

Obtaining donor interest and support is of vital importance to strengthen and widen the impact
of the Programme on Edible Insects among more FAO member countries. Donors can play an
important role in supporting the management of this sustainable, nutritious and eco-friendly
natural food resource which so long has been neglected in research and development

  Mopane Woodlands and the Mopane Worm: Enhancing rural livelihoods and resource sustainability. Final
Technical Report (Ed. J. Ghazoul) DFID: R 7822 (2001-2006)

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

programmes, and which hold the potential to quickly improve the livelihoods of the 1 billion
hungry people.

Expected benefits

Global benefits by increasing protein production from edible insects

Environmental aspects, reduction GHG and food security
Livestock production contributes significantly to global human induced greenhouse gas
emissions. Available technologies to reduce these emissions are limited. Industrial livestock
production has resulted in more economically competitive large-scale facilities because of
production efficiencies. However, this comes with health and environmental costs, surface
and groundwater contamination, acidification because of ammonia emissions, increased
livestock disease incidence, and a high demand on scarce water resources. Global demands
for meat and proteins increase rapidly because of the growing human population and because
of higher meat consumption per capita, while the agricultural land area is limited.

Edible insects are nutritionally competitive to conventional meat. Their food conversion
efficiency compares very favourable to conventional livestock. Other advantages are their
short life cycle, and the possibility of crowded rearing in vertical stacked trays or cages. Until
now antibiotics are not required, but hygiene should be observed. Insects that can be
considered for rearing for human consumption are crickets, which have high food conversion
efficiency. Methane is produced only by a few insects such as termites and cockroaches.
However, more information on greenhouse gases emitted by insects is required. Several insect
species can be reared on organic waste and even on manure and used as fish, pork or poultry
feed. In this way the environmental impact of the waste is reduced, while at the same time
producing high protein feed, that can substitute fishmeal, or cereal and soy flour components
meant for human consumption.

Benefits for FAO member countries (government and agencies)

Opportunities for the poor
Harvesting insects from nature can be done by farmers but very often it is an activity of
villagers or special collectors. For example in the case of the mopane caterpillar in southern
Africa, collectors (very often women) travel long distances to collect in the wild (in
Zimbabwe for example they get contracts from large farms in order to harvest7). The mopane
caterpillar is one of the best known and most economically important forest resource of the
mopane woodland in southern Zimbabwe, Botswana and the northern Transvaal. It has been
estimated that annually 9.5 billion mopane worms are harvested in South Africa’s 20,000 km2
of mopane forests worth US$ 85 million, of which approximately 40% goes to producers
which are primarily poor rural women. Increased supplies of mopane worm in both rural and
urban areas therefore have the potential to address food security problems both by increasing
incomes for poor mopane harvesters or producers (providing financial capital for food

 Similar arrangements between large farms and collectors are made in Thailand for harvesting ant larvae and

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

purchases) and by increasing the availability of a high-protein and popular food. In Thailand,
more then 15.000 farmers are engaged in insect farming. In Laos it was equally found that
most villagers engage in collecting for home consumption and/or for the market. As such it
provides both income and a high quality food source.

Improving nutrition
There are numerous studies about the nutritional value of insects. Sometimes they are difficult
to compare because of lack of standardized methodologies. Also the many edible species all
differ in nutritional value. Even the chemical composition of related species may vary as it
often depends on the plant they feed on, so it is location specific. However, some
generalizations can be made. The protein content is comparable to that of conventional meat.
The indispensable amino acids are often present, but the protein quality of each insect should
be considered in relation to the dietary staple. The fibre content (chitin from the exoskeleton)
is higher than in conventional meat and comparable to that of cereal grains. All food insects
are a significant source of short chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, a good source of iron,
calcium and B vitamins. In general as a food group, insects are nutritious, rich in protein and
fat, providing ample quantities of minerals and vitamins. The amino-acid composition is in
most cases better than that of grains and legumes.

Insects as livestock, poultry, and fish feed
Most promising for industrial production are larvae of soldier fly, housefly, mealworm,
silkworm and grasshoppers. Feeding animals with protein sources such as meat meal, fish
meal and soybean meal often represents up to 60-70% of production costs. Another
increasingly serious environmental problem of livestock is manure disposal. The larvae of the
‘black soldier’ fly are able to reduce the manure pollution potential by 50-60% through
nutrient concentration; it reduces noxious odours, reduces harmful bacteria, and reduces
housefly populations. As a component of a complete diet they have been found to support
good growth of chickens, swine, rainbow trout, channel catfish, and blue tilapia. Housefly
larvae can provide an excellent source of animal proteins for local poultry farms and their
production alleviates the environmental problem of manure accumulation. Also mealworms
can be grown on low nutritive waste products and fed to broiler chickens. Growing edible
insects on organic waste for livestock and poultry feed would allow using grains targeted as
livestock feed for human consumption.

Technical support
The culture of eating insects is based on its collection from nature. It is possible to treat them
as mini-livestock. Some arthropods are already reared on an industrial scale such as edible
scorpions in China. Others, such as crickets and water beetles are reared on a semi-industrial
scale. In temperature zones insect rearing companies produce insects as feed for reptiles, birds
and primates or for fishing bait. In the Netherlands three such insect growers have set up
special production lines to produce for human consumption (mealworms and locusts). In other
parts of the world attempts are being made to rear insects artificially such as palm weevil,
mopane worm, and wasps. Mass rearing methods for larvae of soldier flies as livestock feed
are available. These are grown on side streams reducing organic waste disposal problems.
Countries would benefit from sharing experiences and knowledge on raising insects and as
such be able to strengthen their extension services.

FAO Forest Department Programme on Edible Insects

Improved national Integrated Pest Management programmes
It is known that locusts are not always considered a plague but sometimes as a welcome food
source. For that reason in some Arabic countries the use of pesticides for locusts is heavily
contested. The harvesting of edible insects can sometimes be used as a control method. In
various parts of the world mechanical harvesting of grasshoppers is carried out while using
them either as human food or animal feed. In Southeast Asia weaver ant larvae and pupae are
a very popular dish, but at the same time the ants can be used in orchards as a biological
control agent. Methodologies are being developed to combine harvesting of the ant as food,
and promoting its bio-control potential.

One of the advantages of eating insects has been considered their safety. They are often
harvested in areas (such as forests) where no pesticides are used. However, examples have
been given where decreased biodiversity or contamination of water ways have been
responsible for a diminished incidence of this food source.

Benefits for the FAO organization as a whole

FAO, as the world’s Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is in a unique
position to take leadership. This could initially be done by the Non-Wood Forest Product
Programme at FAO’s Forestry Department. However, it is recognized that other Divisions
than Forestry such as Agriculture, Fisheries, Nutrition, and Livestock should be involved once
the role of edible insects becomes better documented. The Forestry Department, in particular,
will benefit from a higher visibility of its work on edible forest insects as an important NWFP
resource, supplementing other key forest resources like bush meat, or fuel-wood that sustain
the livelihoods of millions of forest-dependent peoples as well as contributing to incorporate
harvesting edible insects into Sustainable Forest Management practices.

FAO could become the organization for the coordination of activities which have been
identified worldwide. Specific activities that could be addressed are: sustainable harvesting
from nature, rearing of edible insects (e.g. cricket farms), production of insects for livestock,
poultry, and fish feed, nutrition, food safety, regulatory and legislative issues.

For more information, please contact:
Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division
Forestry Department, FAO - Rome, Italy
Paul Vantomme, Senior Forestry Officer Non-Wood Forest Products
Edible Insects Programme:


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