In 2013, the UN shocks the world by urging countries to eat more insects, claiming that it’s the future of food security. While it sounds disgusting to most Americans, it’s already been practiced in the world, even made as delicacies or a serious source of nutrition.
The UN would want to debunk the way Americans stereotype insects—mostly just a nuisance, illness-giving crawlers. This may be true for some insects. Take for example infected Aedes or Haemagogus species mosquitoes that cause yellow fever, house dust mites that cause asthma, etc. The most common disease-transmitting insects are various kinds of mosquitoes. That explains the onset of potent yellow fever mosquito attractants and insecticides.
Crawling, flying, biting, or infesting the home, if there’s one thing common among insects and arachnids, it’s that they give you the ick. Some people even develop a phobia for certain insects. But while we usually think of insects this way, not all of them deserve to be loathed.
Certain insects are already even farmed around the world for various reasons from textile production as in the famous case of silkworms, human consumption, to pet food. Small-scale providers are growing, taking on huge profits from farming beneficial insects. Others simply farm them, so they don’t have to buy insects to feed their pets or livestock.
Insects That Are Farmed Around the World for Profit
Aside from being used for pet or human consumption or textile production, certain insects are used for pest predation, fiber, or dye. Here are a few insects that are seriously farmed in many parts of the globe for profit:
Everyone knows where silk fabrics come from—silkworms—which are probably the topmost product we don’t feel gross about. Silkworms’ ability to produce silk fibers has since been discovered five thousand years ago by the Chinese.
China, until now, is still the biggest among silk producers today with 146,000 metric tons of silk produced every year. India comes in second with an average of 28,708 metric tons of silk production each year. The third comes Uzbekistan, fourth Thailand, fifth Brazil, sixth Vietnam, seventh North Korea, and eight Turkey.
Thousands of years have passed and until now, silk is still the most coveted luxury fabric around the world, maintaining its link to the royalties. Today, silk moths on a larval stage are bred into thousands of unique strains to produce various kinds of qualities. Not only are they used for textile; inside each cocoon lies a grub-like pupa, which is also sold for food.
Sericulture, the process of domesticating silkworms, is done using traditional and new methods. New methods attempt to alter the genes of silkworms using the DNA of spiders, which is still under study. But even with new technologies, the traditional approach is still being used.
Anywhere you have thick grasses, live near forests, or near the rivers, even in the cities, you can see ladybugs everywhere. They thrive wherever there are sap-sucking insects such as cochineal aphids. Just like mammals which have both carnivore and herbivore, insects have either too. Ladybugs belong to the carnivore group, which is why they eat other insects.
This is why they’re cultivated in large numbers. They’re proven to be very effective at preying on plant-eating insects that organic farmers pay insect farmers to raise thousands of ladybugs. In one acre of crop, 72,000 ladybugs can already do the job, the best approach to natural pest control.
Now for the insects mainly cultivated for human and pets consumption—crickets. These insects are raised easily as they may just be fed with maggots, waste products, worms, larvae, grubs, etc., especially if they’re used for pet consumption, particularly reptiles.
For human consumption, they may be raised with oatmeal and lettuce, which is what makes them affordable. They are rich sources of nutrition including vitamins, minerals, fat, protein, and are proven to be gut-friendly.
There’s also the rise of cricket flour in which people who have tasted the kind of dish claim that it doesn’t taste any different from the usual flour we use. Cricket flour or powder is on the rise because of its high amounts of protein just like a skinless chicken breast. Studies even show that our bodies absorb iron better when it’s produced by crickets compared to beef.
Many Other Farmed Insects
Surprisingly, home insects like cockroaches and houseflies are being farmed too. Home-raised cockroaches can be used to feed insect-eating pets, if you have any, while houseflies are used for their maggots, processed into aquaculture and chicken feed.
Start-up insect farmers have seen the promising future of farming beneficial insects. What’s sure is that the demand for high-quality protein in the market is continually growing. Beyond our stereotypes, we may find nutrition and food security from insects in the future.