Edible insects are important source of protein, UN study shows

8 November 2004

A new study released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today stresses that edible insects such as caterpillars and grubs should be considered an alternative source of nutrition in efforts to overcome food insecurity in central African countries.

“Edible insects from forests are an important source of protein, and unlike those from agricultural land, they are free of pesticides,” said Paul Vantomme, an FAO forestry expert, noting that caterpillars are already an important food intake for many people in central Africa.

More than 90 per cent of participants in a survey in Botswana said they consumed caterpillars, with 85 percent in the Central African Republic and 70 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) doing the same.

For every 100 grams of dried caterpillars, there are about 53 grams of proteins, about 15 per cent of fat and about 17 per cent of carbohydrates, according to the study. The insects are also believed to have a higher proportion of protein and fat than beef and fish with a high energy value.

Depending on the species, caterpillars are considered to be rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and iron, as well as various vitamins. Research shows that 100 grams of insects provide more than 100 per cent of the daily requirements of the respective minerals and vitamins.

“Due to their high nutritional value in some regions, flour made from caterpillars is mixed to prepare pulp given to children to counter malnutrition,” said Mr. Vantomme. “Contrary to what many may think, caterpillars are not considered an emergency food, but are an integral part of diet in many regions according to seasonal availability. They are consumed as a delicacy.”

Experts believe that the collection of edible insects by hand could prove to be a potential source of income for rural populations, especially women, because it requires little capital income.

“The nutritional and economic value of edible insects is often neglected and we should further encourage their collection and commercialization, given the benefits to the environment and human health,” said Mr. Vantomme, noting that insects were already widely offered in local village markets and restaurants.

The study shows that trans-border trade in edible insects is significant not only within Central African countries, but also in Sudan and Nigeria. Dried caterpillars are also exported to France and Belgium.