Insects: the answer to global malnutrition? - Health & Families - Life and Style - The Independent

Insects: the answer to global malnutrition?

Serge Verniau is a man with a mission: to persuade the world to swap the chicken wings and steaks on their plates for crickets, palm weevils and other insects rich in protein and vitamins.

Verniau, the Laos representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is only half-joking when he says his dream is "to feed the big metropolises from Tokyo to Los Angeles, via Paris" with the small arthropods.

He plans to present the lessons drawn from a pilot project to the world at a conference on edible insects, probably in 2012.

"Most of the world's population will live in urban areas. Trying to feed the whole planet enough protein from cows won't work," Verniau told AFP.

It is not by chance that the dream was born in landlocked Laos, one of the world's poorest countries.

Almost one quarter of its population of six million people, and nearly 40 percent of children below the age of five years old, suffer from malnutrition, according to figures from the Laos government.

The typical rice-based diet provides insufficient nutrients for development - a shortfall that could be filled by insects, highly rich in protein and vitamins.

Eaten as snacks, grilled or fried, they are already part of Laos cuisine, but most people do not know how to breed them, said Oudom Phonekhampheng, dean of the faculty of agriculture at the National University of Laos.

"They just take them in the wild and eat them, and then it is finished and destroyed. They have to think about the future," he said.

In a modest building in the suburbs of the capital, his department's laboratory collects scientific data on this new area of breeding.

Along with house crickets - which are already widely farmed in neighbouring Thailand - there are experiments in breeding mealworms, palm weevils and weaver ants, which are appreciated for their larvae.

The students are trying out different foods for the insects in an attempt to reduce costs while maintaining quality, explains Yupa Hanboonsong, a Thai entomologist supervising the project for the FAO.

Up to now, the roughly 20 cricket farms operating in Laos have used chicken feed, like thousands of Thai farms, but it is expensive and must be imported.

Vegetables or waste left over from the production of the national beer, BeerLao, could be one solution, said Yupa, who hopes to "train the whole country."

Beyond the fight against malnutrition, this new economic activity can also generate revenue for farmers, added Yupa.

Phouthone Sinthiphanya, 61, seized the opportunity in 2007 to supplement his meager pension after a career in the tobacco industry.

The 27 cylindrical concrete vats, about 50 centimetres (20 inches) tall, installed in the garden of his house in Vientiane produce 67 kilos (148 pounds) of crickets every two months, he explains.

One kilo of live insects fetches 60,000 kips (7.5 dollars). The same quantity crushed sells for 50,000 kips.

"I worked for a tobacco company and then retired. My pension was not enough so I started farming insects," he said.

"Our customers are restaurants, villagers, markets," he said, adding that breeding the small creatures was "easy".

It requires little space or natural resources and only their singing might annoy the neighbours.

"Insect farming creates less damage to the environment. It is a green protein," said Yupa.

Proponents believe such nutritional and environmental advantages could be beneficial beyond Laos, particularly in other developing countries where people are used to eating cicadas and grasshoppers.

"You can make powder from crickets that is very rich in protein. It's low in fat and it can be added to biscuits in problem areas where food rations are distributed," said Verniau.

Nor has he given up hope of persuading sceptics in the West.

"When you look closely, a grey shrimp or a cricket, it has the same appeal," he joked.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Sport
David Moyes and Rio Ferdinand
FootballRio Ferdinand on why the former manager failed at United
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
News
i100
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Markets Analyst

    £400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

    Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Nursery Manager

    £22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week