Forest insects as food: humans bite back
In this fast-paced modern world, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of valuable traditional knowledge and practices. There is a tendency to think of traditional habits and customs as outdated or primitive. Yet, experience across numerous fields has highlighted the value and benefits to be gained from combining customary knowledge and approaches with modern science and understanding.
Such is the case with edible forest insects. The practice of eating insects goes back thousands of years and has been documented in nearly every part of the world. In modern times, however, consumption of insects has declined in many societies and is sometimes ridiculed as old-fashioned and unhealthy. Yet, it would be prudent to carefully consider the value of customary knowledge before discarding it too readily. Scientific analysis confirms, for example, the exceptional nutritional benefits of many forest insects, and studies point to the potential to produce insects for food with far fewer negative environmental impacts than for many mainstream foods consumed today.
Aside from their nutritional and environmental benefits, experts see considerable opportunity for edible insects to provide income and jobs for rural people who capture, rear, process, transport and market insects as food. These prospects can be enhanced through promotion and adoption of modern food technology standards to ensure that the insects are safe and attractive for human consumption.
Traditionally, most edible insects have been harvested from natural forests, but surprisingly little is known about the life cycles, population dynamics, commercial and management potential of most edible forest insects. Among forest managers, knowledge and appreciation of how to manage and harvest insects sustainably is limited. On the other hand, traditional forest dwellers and forest-dependent people often possess remarkable knowledge of the insects and their management, offering excellent opportunities for modern science and traditional knowledge to work together.
In an effort to more fully explore the various facets of edible forest insects, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized an international workshop, entitled “Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in February 2008. The workshop brought together many of the world’s foremost experts on entomophagy – the practice of eating insects. Specialists in the three-day workshop focused specifically on the science management, collection, harvest, processing, marketing and consumption of edible forest insects, as well as their potential to be reared commercially by local farmers.
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