Threat or food? The value of insects

sexta-feira, julho 27, 2018

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For many people, the word ‘insects’ is associated with diseases and bad sanitary conditions. Pesticides are being uses on a daily basis to fight bug threats. 
At the same time, the concept of eating insects as a meat-replacement is becoming increasingly accepted. For instance, last month the Huazhong Agricultural University organized an ‘insect banquet’ and in the Netherlands already some supermarkets offer insects to their customers. Henk Sigter, Agricultural Attaché at the Embassy in Beijing, believes this interest in insects is long overdue.
Image: Koppert

Insecticides and food security

With the rapidly increasing population, ensuring food security has been a hot topic for many governments. To guarantee successful harvests, the use of insecticides has become more popular. “We need to realize that not all insects are our enemies. Some insects can actually help us. For instance, instead of using pesticides we can often use the natural enemies (perhaps insects) to fight off a pest problem. Or if we need to cultivate our plants, we can use bumblebees to support the process,” Henk says.
As such, determining whether an insect is an actual threat is important in the agricultural sector. Henk explains: “Spraying with insecticides when it’s not necessary may cause more problems than it solves. When you find a bug, the first step is always to identify it. Is it a bug which actually harms your crops? Or perhaps your crops actually benefit from them? And even if it is a harmful bug, you do not need to spray right away. Based on research and careful monitoring you can discover at what point using insecticides will actually start paying off.” 
To determine when you need to start using pesticides, knowledge of bugs is very important. There are often subtle differences between friend and foe. Henk actually published a book before called Schädliche und nützliche Insekten und milben an Kern- und Steinobst. “Education about bugs and insects to farmers and about when to use insecticides is essential to realize a more sustainable agricultural sector. Insects are essential when working towards the future of agriculture.”

Insects not as threat, but as food

Besides their importance to the agricultural sector and use as biological pesticide, insects are also interesting as food product. Earlier this month, the government of the Chinese city of Hangzhou had a remarkable request to its citizens. They asked for help with the huge population of cicadas in the city. Through a report on national television citizens were asked to catch and eat the cicadas to protect the local vegetation. Besides coping with the plague, there was a secondary advantage: cicadas are well known for their high nutritional values.  
Not only in China, but also in other countries the interest in insects as food is growing. Last year, Professor Arnold Huis visited the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing for a seminar on insects as food and feed. He said: “Insects are a very good alternative protein source. The energy they use is similar to livestock, but the emissions are much lower and much less land and water is needed. Another very large advantage of insects is that you can grow them on organic byproducts.”

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