Bacon bugs: why SEED is so excited about edible insects in Sainte Luce
SEED kicked off 2021 with a new grant from the Darwin Initiative to support our efforts to combat food insecurity around Fort Dauphin. With this grant we’re exploring the feasibility of farming sakondry in Sainte Luce, an edible insect native to the area. This blog is to introduce why insect farming globally is such an exciting idea, and how we hope it will help the communities SEED supports.
The idea of eating insects (‘entophagy’) is not new, with records suggesting the practice is nearly 7,000 years old (Ramos-Elorduy 2009), with around 2,300 species eaten across at least 113 countries (Jongema 2017). With ever-increasing pressure on limited resources, alternative ways to feed the global population are more and more important. Traditional animal protein production is not meeting demand, contributing globally to climate change and habitat loss, but research is increasingly showing that there are plenty of benefits to bugs. Insect rearing releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional livestock farming, as well as requiring less land and fewer resources to produce the equivalent amount of meat (Oonincx et al. 2010; Klunder et al. 2012). In addition, insects can be comparable to livestock in terms of dietary protein (Yi et al. 2013) and can provide more protein in our diets than plant-based sources (Belluco et al. 2013). Insects are also excellent source of energy, fats and minerals, contributing to increased food security and diet diversity.
Although in many western cultures entophagy is considered to be either disgusting, or at best just a novelty, there are not the same negative connotations in most areas of Madagascar. Many of our national staff remember catching and eating sakondry as children, and on bad fishing days in Sainte Luce, kids are sent to find sakondry and collect them to be eaten by the whole family. This history meant that when we introduced the idea of ‘farming’ sakondry to the community, there was real enthusiasm to make these snacks a more sustainable and reliable food source for community members of all ages.
Within Madagascar, it was Dr Cortni Borgerson and her team who started to ask whether these bugs could be deliberately ‘farmed’ as an additional protein source. Based in Masoala National Park, they have done all the hard work in understanding the host plants, how to harvest the sakondry and the benefits they bring to the communities. From planting the host plants seeds, which also happens to be an edible bean species, sakondry colonies arrive after around six or eight weeks and can be harvested around a month or so later. Their work successfully added 450,000 kilocalories and 35,000 grams of protein to diets over a year. To help understand this, we’ve worked out that this is a similar number of kilocalories as around 1,960 Mars Bars, and a similar amount of protein as 2,700 eggs! This is a huge step towards creating a sustainable food system, and reduces pressure on unsustainable environmental activities, including lemur hunting.
Although bushmeat hunting hasn’t appeared to be a recent significant issue in Sainte Luce, concerns about food insecurity and the predicted famine started to increase early on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Any food shortage or loss of income in the community would inevitably put more pressure on already limited natural resources. This prompted us to start looking at novel ways of increasing food security and protecting the environment, quickly, cheaply and sustainably. Confirmation of the occurrence of sakondry in the area made it an exciting opportunity to explore and was the first essential step in building our partnership with Dr Borgerson. The project has now come to fruition thanks to the Darwin Initiative, as we trial the sakondry farming process with 45 of the most food-insecure households in Sainte Luce. While some of the international staff are still discussing whether they’d munch on the bacon-flavoured bugs, we’re excited to have put in place a rapid response to the food insecurity and look forward to expanding the work to help even more vulnerable people.
- Belluco, S., Losasso, C., Maggioletti, M., Alonzi, C.C., Paoletti, M.G. and Ricci, A., 2013. Edible insects in a food safety and nutritional perspective: a critical review. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 12(3), pp.296-313.
- Jongema, Y., 2017. List of edible insect species of the world. Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen UR, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
- Klunder, H.C., Wolkers-Rooijackers, J., Korpela, J.M. and Nout, M.J.R., 2012. Microbiological aspects of processing and storage of edible insects. Food control, 26(2), pp.628-631.
- Oonincx, D.G., Van Itterbeeck, J., Heetkamp, M.J., Van Den Brand, H., Van Loon, J.J. and Van Huis, A., 2010. An exploration on greenhouse gas and ammonia production by insect species suitable for animal or human consumption. PloS one, 5(12), p.e14445.
- Ramos-Elorduy, J., 2009. Anthropo‐entomophagy: Cultures, evolution and sustainability. Entomological Research, 39(5), pp.271-288.
- Yi, L., Lakemond, C.M., Sagis, L.M., Eisner-Schadler, V., van Huis, A. and van Boekel, M.A., 2013. Extraction and characterisation of protein fractions from five insect species. Food chemistry, 141(4), pp.3341-3348.