Laura Del Vecchio
Mario Hoesel @ adobe.stock.com
Eating insects is not new; they have been, and still are in some countries, seen as a crunchy treat and sometimes even as exquisite delicacies. However, the advent of agriculture contributed to the cultural shift in the way society perceives the presence of insects in meals, shifting from snacks to pests. Nevertheless, currently, insects are experiencing a comeback due to their nutritional value, especially their high protein content, thus becoming a smart way to mitigate the footprint left by traditional animal farming.
Insects grow faster, require less space, and produce fewer greenhouse gases. They can be easily prepared in a variety of formats — from flour for baking to deep-fried snacks. In this sense, entomophagy (the act of humans eating insects as a food source) could help meet the growing demand for food and lower the risk of food scarcity with a constantly-increasing population. Besides, certain kinds of insects have been highlighted as a source of protein and fat. They are also feeders of organic waste that may help address solutions to environmental, economic, and health issues.
The use of insects to convert crop residues into biomass and pure organic materials – a concept called biotransformation – could lead to a more economically feasible and environmentally friendly approach for biofuel production and lignocellulose utilization. An insect biorefinery could take this possible natural advantage even further, upgrading biomass to a high-quality protein that consumers could use in various applications. On the other hand, insects could also be used to deal with agricultural waste like lignocellulosic biomass (plant biomass composed of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin).
Additionally, to deal with agricultural waste, the same insects cultivated for food, feed, and energy could also be used as a helpful method to reduce waste. To close the cycle of waste, insects could feed other insects, which in turn would feed humans and other animals.
Recent studies have shown successful co-conversion of corn stover by insects that possessed different feeding habits, thus proving to be an attractive option for efficient utilization of lignocellulosic resources. In other words, this could represent a potentially valuable solution for crop residue management, the rise of global liquid energy, and animal and human demand for food.
Resource scarcity and sustainability are becoming increasingly important issues for food production and distribution. Farming edible insects, with their high feed conversion efficiency and fecundity, as well as their minimal space for rearing, might represent a beneficial and sustainable solution for present and future food insecurity.