Buzzing: Insect farming in mind-boggling numbers
Hello everyone, how are you all? I hope you’ve managed to keep the January blues and Covid at bay.
Today in Buzzing:
Insect farming is many orders of magnitude more efficient than conventional farming.
In Other News: Cool video and authoritative reports
Test Corner: Cricket quesadilla
Today I would like to blow your mind with statistics. One of the big USPs of insect farming is that it is more efficient than other types of farming. There are plenty of reasons for this: insects are better at converting feed, they have shorter life cycles, they are farmed vertically and in controlled conditions (no freak hail storms or unseasonal frost).
The thing is, it’s not just two or three times more efficient, it is many orders of magnitude more efficient.
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen three separate sets of figures that show how productive insect farms can be and every time, they’ve stopped me in my tracks.
When I visited Protix in December, founder and CEO Kees Aarts told me that from their 15,000 sqm plant, the largest Black Soldier Fly farm in the world, they produced 10,000 tonnes of protein per hectare per year. Soy, by comparison, produces just one tonne of protein per hectare per year.
In an Economist video released this week (see Graphic Story below), Mohammed Ashour, co-founder and CEO of Aspire Food Group, explained that the vertical cricket farm his company is currently building in London, Ontario (Canada) will be about 12 acres. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, he explained, that plot would be big enough to farm three or four cows, from which you’d get a few thousand kilos of beef. I think he’s being generous: one cow usually produces about 500 pounds/200kg of beef, so even 1,000 kg is optimistic. But that’s beside the point: his factory will produce 12 million kg of crickets from those same 12 acres. Take that, beef.
Then last week, at a webinar to launch the World Bank’s recent report on the potential of insect farming in Africa, lead author Dorte Verner said that their modelling had found that one acre of Black Soldier Fly farm would produce more protein than 3,000 acres of arable land and more protein than 130 acres of soy. (This would be for less high-tech operations than those of Protix or Aspire Food.)
On top of that, insect farming produces organic fertilisers and it can help manage organic waste.
These numbers aren’t just mind-bending, they are game-changing. The World Bank describes insect farming as a frontier agricultural technology, which it defines as “an approach that sustainably expands the frontiers of current food production practices”.
I feel this is such an apt description of what this industry can do. Now we just need to make it happen.
In Other News
Another video this week, this time from The Economist, featuring Buzzing friend Brian Fisher and the always insightful folks at Aspire Food.
First it was the World Bank on Africa, now it’s Wageningen University & Research on Colombia: a new report on how insect farming can fight poverty.
“If the choice is between eating the bugs or eating only carrots, then most people will eat the bugs.” A slightly tortuous argument on how the evil workings of capitalism will – eventually – convert us to insects. (Unherd).
The Mopane Worm industry in South Africa is worth $37-59 million per annum but forecast to reach $270 million by 2024. (Africa News)
Test corner: Cricket quesadilla
This week’s creation was inspired by a kiddie staple in our household: the sneaky veg-containing quesadilla. There was a time when the kids only liked the holy trinity of tomatoes, carrots and cucumber, and getting them to eat other vegetables was tricky.
A friend casually served these quesadillas one day: they’re basically grated cheese and grated courgette in corn tortillas. The kids did spot that the cheese was “green” but didn’t actually object to the quesadillas. I thought that was good enough to be repeated at home – plus, it’s a meal ready in 10 min.
Anyway, after my Mexican culinary triumph with the Yum Bug Taco kit a couple of weeks ago, I got inspired to revisit the quesadillas and give them the Buzzing twist. I added a generous portion of Sriracha spicy crickets (from BugVita), a large handful of fresh coriander, a squeeze of lime juice and a little sour cream for dipping. Ta dah!
I loved it – spicy enough, satisfying (melting cheese always is), flavoursome, nutritious. I’ll try it with the BBQ-flavoured crickets next time. I may even do a kid-friendly version with cricket powder.