Insect farming wins big for feeding urban poor

CC BY 2.0 Flickr user Chris Luczkow

A team of students from McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management have won $1 million in seed funding to promote insect farming. The five team members, Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson, Gabe Mott and Mohammed Ashour will work to formalize insect farming practices around the globe.

This year's Hult Prize challenged teams to create a social enterprise that would address the issue of food insecurity, with a particular focus on people living in urban slums. The competition attracted 11,000 entries this year.

The winning project, Insects Feed the World, is first working to help farmers raise grasshoppers outside Oaxaca, Mexico. The team will provide livestock containers and help coordinate with processing facilities to produce a insect-enriched flour that's high in protein.

The team conducted field research in Kenya, Ghana and Mexico to better understand the role of insects in local diets. “It is simply not possible to email people and get the information you need," Zeb Thompson told the business blog Grasp.

One of the most interesting aspects of their approach is the focus on locally appropriate bugs. Many people working to popularize insect foods use crickets. Team member Mohammed Ashour told NPR they too initially considered the cricket:

"When this was in the armchair phase, we liked the idea of taking one insect and popularizing it everywhere." The cricket, he says, "has a great resume," in that it's easy to farm, and can be found almost anywhere. "But in Mexico, people don't eat crickets; they do eat grasshoppers."

Not only are grasshoppers already part of the local diet, they're also part of the local landscape. This has the advantage of not introducing a new organism into the environment. "In the case of a breakout, these are species that already exist in the current ecosystem, so there isn't much of a risk there," Shobhita Soor told Fox News.

Insects have recently become a much-discussed solution for food insecurity and a more sustainable alternative to meat. In 2012, the European Union invested 3 million euros in researching the topic. This year, the United National released a report examining insects for direct human consumption.

Insect farming wins big for feeding urban poor
$1 million Hult Prize goes to McGill University team to create insects farms in urban slums.