Each day your average well-nourished adult human being consumes approximately 70 grams of protein. For a large part of the world’s population obtaining this much protein can be quite problematic with protein deficiency or kwashiorkor affecting significant parts of the developing world. Perhaps microlivestock are the answer?
Invertebrates are already consumed by large numbers of people. Interestingly we are quite happy to eat aquatic invertebrates such as crabs, octopuses, squid, lobsters, mussels and oysters but recoil in horror (unless we are Bear Grylls) at the prospect of consuming terrestrial invertebrates. Some people don’t have this luxury.
More than 2000 species of invertebrates are used as food by humans worldwide. Their consumption can provide significant amounts of animal protein, especially during difficult periods of the year when fish and game are scarce. Invertebrates provide 60% of the animal protein consumed during the rainy season by the Guajivos Amerindians of Venezuela. Among the Tukanoan Indians of Colombia, insects and other small invertebrates provide up to 12% of the animal protein in men’s diets and 26% in women’s diets during the early months of the rainy season.
Over 50 different species of caterpillars are known to be eaten in Africa. The caterpillars are highly sought after to supplement the traditional cereal-based diet. Nutrient analysis of caterpillars in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) revealed 63–65 g protein, and 457 kilocalories per 100 g of dried caterpillars. Most species are an excellent source of iron, with 100 g providing on average 335% of the recommended daily requirement.
Harvesting and marketing of caterpillars is a viable enterprise for rural communities. A study in Malawi showed that caterpillar collection generated a higher income than maize, bean and groundnut production, and did not directly compete for labour with these existing agricultural enterprises. Similarly, in northern Zambia incomes from caterpillar harvesting are higher than incomes from the sale of agricultural crops.
At present, invertebrates are mostly gathered from the wild, rather than farmed. This strategy takes advantage of a highly abundant and renewable resource. Wild invertebrates are available to all sections of the population, particularly the rural poor, and collecting them for consumption or sale in local markets involves minimal inputs.
Insects are generally more efficient than vertebrates at converting food to body mass. They do not need to use food to keep warm (being poikilothermic, or cold blooded), reproduce much more rapidly, occupy less space, use less water and produce less greenhouse gas. As an example, mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas per kilogram than pigs. Furthermore, compared to cattle or pigs, insects produce significantly less ammonia, which can cause acidification and eutrophication of water.
See: http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/022/mb390e.pdf, which contained much of the information used in this post.
For those who want to take this further check out the recipes at http://edibug.wordpress.com/. You will find oatmealworm cookies, cabbage, peas ‘n’ crickets, bee-lt sandwich, waxworm tacos, deep fried scorpion, and caterpillars with groundnut sauce. Personally, I have always been partial to the odd wichity grub. And before you ask, “No, they don’t taste like chicken. More like boiled egg really”.
Dr. F. Bunny