Before you stomp on the idea of eating bugs, see what this researcher has to say

Published: Tuesday 25th April 2023

Insects may play an important role in our diet, with the way the world is changing, says entomologist Dr Marwa Shumo

Can insects save the world? Dr Marwa Shumo — sometimes known as Lady of the Flies but more accurately described as an Associate Researcher in the Department of Ecology and Natural Resources Management at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) — explained that at the very least, they will have an important role to play.

That role is dinner.

“Our global population is growing,” she explained. “We’re at around 8 billion people already, and some predictions suggest we will be at 10 billion by the year 2050, and maybe even surpass that. In parallel, there are nations in the developing world that are changing economically, so for instance in China, the middle classes are expanding and therefore moving towards a more Westernized diet, with more animal products.”

That trend is coupled with an alarming amount of food waste, Marwa said. She estimated that about a third of the food produced worldwide is wasted.

“Here in Europe, it’s because of high standards and the shelf-life requirements that supermarkets have,” she said. “In the developing world, the waste happens post-harvest, as the infrastructure isn’t always there to get it to people who need it, and there are not proper storage techniques.”

In addition to the increasing demand and the existing waste, Marwa also noted that there is a global trend of people leaving rural areas: “Especially in the developing world, around 60% — more than half the world’s population — is going to reside in urban areas. The people who traditionally produced food for us are no longer going to be producing food for us in a traditional way and in a traditional environment because they are moving out of farm lands and rural places, where food is normally produced, and into cities. And therefore we have to come up with alternative agricultural and food production systems that can coexist with us and cities.”

Let them eat bugs

Insect-based protein provides a solution. After all, not only are insects rich in high quality protein, they grow up to 100 times faster than traditional animal protein sources, and they can be fed on food waste. Instead of rotting at dumps, food can be reprocessed to offer new nutritional value.

Of course, there is a “yuck” factor that comes with eating insects. Even as someone who has dedicated their life to the study of insects — to the point of becoming an expert in the black soldier fly — Marwa understands where that impulse comes from:

I get it! People think I’m crazy because I work with insects and talk about them all the time, but I understand it. When people started … agricultural activities, pests were a risk to their livelihood — the value they made out of selling — and they were a risk to their food source. Diseases like malaria were associated with insects, so people became more fearful, associating bad hygiene and sicknesses to the existence of, or the coexistence of, insects.

Read the full article on Elsevier Connect: “Before you stomp on the idea of eating bugs, see what this researcher has to say“, Ian Evans, 25 April 2023.