ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana could soon become a leader in palm weevil production. These small insects have the potential to fight malnutrition and provide a food source for the undernourished nation.
The idea of using insects to combat world hunger is not new. Over two billion people include insects in their diets, although this number fluctuates depending on the season. In 2013, the United Nations published an extensive report on the benefits of insect consumption, encouraging people to use insects as a food source.
One reason the U.N. values insects is that they require fewer resources to produce than other protein sources. They only need a quarter of the feed consumed by cattle to produce the same amount of meat. They also produce fewer greenhouse gases.
Nutritionally, insects have comparable protein, but higher amounts of good fats and nutrients.
The most common insects consumed are beetles, but there are many others as well. Caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, termites, dragonflies and flies are all eaten.
Most of these insects are caught by hand from existing environments, but there are also efforts to improve insect farming to make it a viable business. There is already an insect farming industry for fishing bait, so modifying this to market for human consumption is definitely feasible.
Aspire, a group founded by McGill University MBA students, is working to bring insect farming to developing nations. They are also working to develop insect-based products like insect-fortified flour and lime cricket chips.
In 2013, the organization won the Hult Prize, which awarded them one million dollars in startup funds. Aspire was chosen out of 11,000 students representing 350 universities.
Right now, it is focusing its efforts in Ghana.
In Ghana, a prevalent cause of malnutrition is the lack of nutritious food. Although less than ten percent of households can be classified as food insecure, this number looks at quantity rather than quality.
Rural Ghanaian diets often include little protein and a lot of carbohydrates. Aspire believes that palm weevils could be the key to providing this missing protein.
Palm weevils are already included in the diets of some Ghanaians, mostly in northern and eastern Ghana. If adopted by more areas, they could add necessary protein to people’s diets.
They also provide an alternative to government-supplied iron pills and vitamins. Many rural, uneducated people lack trust in the government and do not take the supplements they are provided with.
Palm weevils are currently gathered by hand, but Aspire is trying to introduce insect farming in the country. This would fight hunger and malnutrition, while also boosting the economy by starting new businesses.
Aspire will provide free farming kits and training to people. Then, after farmers produce enough, Aspire will buy the weevils to distribute them to the community.
The organization is also developing weevil-enriched products like flour.
Aspire also has projects in Kenya and Mexico. The concept is the same, but the type of insect farmed changes based on local preferences.
In Western culture, there is a stigma around insect consumption – it is often considered a bold, one-time experience or delicacy. Even in countries where it is common to eat insects, high-income classes often consume less.
This stigma impacts the power of this industry, but turning insect farming into a productive business could impact nations positively and reduce stigma.
– Monica Roth
Sources: CNN, CNBC, CBS, Business Insider