UN Says Eat Insects to Curb World Hunger
Entomophagy is the study of consumption of insects as a food source

An entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands is organising the first international conference to address whether insects can feed the world.

The study of eating of insects, or entomophagy, suggests that insects are a neglected food source that could offer a sustainable diet.

Arnold van Huis, author of "Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Security", advocates the eating or insects as a solution to increasing food production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the world needs to increase its food production by 70% by 2050, in order to serve a global population of nine billion.

The conference, which will be held at Wageningen University on 14th May, is set to outline the potential insects have in contributing to global food security.

Speaking to Nature journal, Van Huis explained how he became involved in the field. "I'm a tropical entomologist, very much involved in pest management and biological control in the tropics," he explained. "Locusts are one of my specialised areas."

"I had a sabbatical and I spent that studying the cultural aspects of insects in Africa. So I visited about 24 countries, interviewing a lot of Africans about insects as medicine, insects in proverbs, et cetera, but often half of my interviews were about edible insects."

According to Van Huis, the conference will help change attitudes about entomophagy. "Insects are still more or less considered a poor man's diet," he said.

"It still has that reputation. In the tropics they don't talk about it, because they know that in the Western world people consider it primitive."

Human insect-eating is common in some cultures, including in developing regions of Latin American, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000, but interest in the scientific field is growing.

Van Huis added: "In the last ten years I've seen an exponential increase in interest. When we published the book last year, it had six million downloads. It just shows the tremendous interest."

Some of the biggest economic questions surrounding entomophagy include how to rear the insects and what organic waste to grow them on. "If you look at the social sciences, of course, consumer attitude is quite important. It's not just a matter of taste; it's also a matter of emotions," Van Huis added.

While some bugs are surprisingly tasty, he added that others were not. "There are flies from eastern African lakes that come out in huge clouds at certain Moon phases. People make a kind of cake out of it — kungu cake. I've tasted those and I didn't like it at all," said Van Huis.

"What I like most also depends a lot on the preparation. Crickets or grasshoppers can be made very delicious."