Meet Sengthong. Whether he knows it or not, he is playing a vital role in improving food security in Laos, a country where over 40% of children are undernourished.
Sengthong explains, “I started to collect when I was 35 years old. No one taught me; I did it myself. At first when I was collecting, I used my own hands. I couldn’t collect a lot so I started using a small plastic bag. I then changed to using a bigger bag, wish which I can collect by swinging it around. I concentrate on collecting insects to sell for my income. Because I otherwise don’t know how I would make money.”
He catches primarily grasshopper and crickets, two of the most popular edible insect species in Laos. Sengthong spends his days on the wetlands, and then returns home for his wife to prepare the insects for general consumption.
His wife says, “After I boil the grasshoppers, I then clean and fry them. Then after I finish frying, at around 3 to 4 in the afternoon, we go to the market. We can earn about $12-$24 a day if we can collect a lot.”
Insects could play a vital role in improving food security and providing jobs and livelihood in lands with rising demand like Southeast Asia. Insects are becoming a favorite snack, and even being canned. The practice of gathering and eating insects goes back thousands of years, and the methods of collecting are varied. There are about 1,700 identified edible crickets worldwide. The real benefits of insect consumption are only just being identified.
Dr. Vonglokham Phouvanh of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) says, “Insects can provide a good source of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, or other minerals – calcium for example – so it is an essential part of human nutrition.”
In a country such as Laos where over 40% of children are undernourished or stunted, this could have a significant impact. Especially after a UN survey concluded that over 95% of the population already consumes insects in one for or another.
To capitalize on this potential, the UN FAO is working on an innovative project to promote innovate and sustainable insect farming and harvesting. By investing half a million dollars, they hope Laos can follow in the success of Thailand, where over 15,000 people farm insects for their main income.
Wankham is one such farmer. She started farming insects over five years ago, and quickly realized how viable and profitable the process could be.
Wankham claims, “When we sell on average, we can earn $115 a month.”
She now receives support from the FAO project to try to recreate that success with grasshoppers. She has already achieved success with the cricket.
Wankham explains, “If it has reached its full term it will be delicious, because there are eggs, the cricket, will have eggs. When we sell them in the market, people will not complain if they are fat and taste good.”
From villages in the remotest areas collecting insects as a source of food, to the post-work crowd snacking on insects in bars, insect consumption is in all sectors of Laos society. A man interviewed in a local restaurant says he is accustomed to eating bugs, they are a part of society and he continues to eat them “…because there are no chemicals. They are natural foods.” Another says he eats them because, “It’s tasty. Eating insects is like eating meat. It’s tasty like meat.”
If these bugs are as tasty and nutritious as they seem (and they are), it might not be long before they spread to a table near you. And with all the crap we eat, we’re just as in need of new food sources that are sustainable and chemical free.
(video credit: the Global Post)