China’s Insect Factories Hoping To Feed The World
UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are increasingly looking to entomophagy as a substitute for meat and fish
By Harold Thibault
KUNYANG – Li Jinsui is an ambitious man. He invested 250,000 euros of his own money in this insect factory, sitting amidst the hills of Kunyang, on the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan. With seven patents, production officially kicked off in 2009.
Since then, no visitor comes by without being offered a plate of bamboo worms, one of the dishes in his catalogue. Yunnan Insect Biotechnologies also offers dried larvae, protein powder from insect exoskeletons and actual insects for human and animal consumption.
Li could be a pioneer. Experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are increasingly looking to entomophagy as a substitute for meat and fish but also as a cheaper alternative to animal feed, especially in fish farms.
The nutritional qualities of insects (protein, minerals…) are quite high. They also have a much better yield than cattle and need much less water. Currently, 70% of farmland around the world and 9% of freshwater are used for animal farming, which emits 18% of greenhouse gases.
After 12 years of preparation, Li finally got the green light from local authorities to start his factory. He is at the forefront of an industry that is in its infant stage in China. “The market is ready,” says the 45-year-old. “We have a protein shortage in this country. We have to import fish from Chile or Peru. As humans, we don’t have enough information yet on the potential of insects as a source of nutrition.”
After some research, he focused on one species: the housefly. Flies are everywhere; they don’t harm the environment, are edible and can even be used in the pharmaceutical industry. Chitin, the main component of the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans and insects, can help build up the immune system.