Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

New FAO book explores edible insect sector in Thailand

"Six-legged livestock: edible insect farming, collecting and marketing in Thailand"

New FAO book explores edible insect sector in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, 21 May 2013 -- Thailand is leading the world in a promising area for improved food security and nutrition, according to a new book launched today by FAO covering all aspects of edible insects in Thailand.  Six-legged livestock: edible insect farming, collecting and marketing in Thailand, launched at a book signing ceremony at the Foreign Press Club of Thailand, covers technical and management aspects of edible insect farming and harvesting as well as market chains for these highly popular Thai snacks.

The book says: “Eating and selling edible insects are widespread in Thailand where they are harvested in the wild or farmed.” Cricket farming was introduced to farmers in the northeast of Thailand more than 15 years ago, but there was scant information on their status and on production, technology development, market-channels and business ventures as well as future opportunities before  this book. Six-legged livestock fills in these gaps based on a quantitative survey of edible insect farming, wild harvesting, and business and marketing practices. Farmers, collectors and others involved in the edible insect sector from 26 provinces across the country were interviewed.

At the launch, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Hiroyuki Konuma said, “This is a very important book for FAO; one that points the way to a very promising aspect of future food production .”

Konuma added, “Global food production will have to expand by an estimated 60 percent from today’s levels by 2050 to meet the food needs of 9 billion people; that’s 2 billion more than exist today. To meet this increased need, the consumption of under-used and under-appreciated foods such as edible insects will have to increase. Potentially, edible insects could make a solid contribution to meeting future food demands and the rest of the world might do well to read this book and see how it works in Thailand. Thailand has lessons to teach and this book is full of them.”

Thailand is well known for consumption and sales of edible insects. Dr Yupa Hanboonsong, noted entomologist from Khon Kaen University and lead author of the newly released FAO publication, said: “In the past, the tradition of eating insects occurred mainly in northern and northeastern regions of the country. Nowadays the practice has increased in popularity and has expanded nationwide. Thailand is one of the few countries of the world where the consumption of insects is increasing – and actually increasing very rapidly.   “Edible insects are no longer perceived as food for poor or rural people; indeed urbanites – even high-income earners – now consume them. Insects are clearly a food of choice for a large percentage of Thai people,” according to Hanboonsong.  This is reflected by the fact that the price of insects in Thai markets is often three or four times the price of meat and fish on a per kilogramme basis.

Insects offer several health, environmental and social advantages as food for humans, according to Patrick Durst, senior forestry officer with FAO and co-author of the new publication. “Insects are highly nutritious, with levels of protein and vitamins comparable to chicken or fish. Insects are also extremely efficient in converting the feed they eat into matter that humans can readily consume – in fact, about four times more efficient than beef cattle.

“Environmentally, insects are a highly attractive food source because they require less land, less feed and less water to produce food that humans can eat compared with conventional livestock. They also produce relatively low levels of greenhouse gases as they grow, so they can be considered a healthy, climate friendly food,” according to Durst.  “Most importantly for consumers, they taste great!”

Collecting, farming and marketing insects provides income and jobs for thousands of people in Thailand and neighbouring countries. The recent boom in insect consumption in Thailand offers excellent livelihood potential for rural insect farmers, collectors and traders in areas of the country that otherwise have limited opportunities for income earning.

Some 200 edible insect species are eaten in Thailand. However, only a few insect species, such as bamboo caterpillars, house crickets, giant water bugs and grasshoppers dominate commercial sales in markets. Many species are still collected from the wild and can be bought in local markets seasonally. House crickets and palm weevils have been farmed successfully in many provinces since the mid-1990s.

The new FAO book provides unique insights into the raising and selling of edible insects in Thailand. It covers the types of containers best suited for farming insects, insect feed, farming techniques and nursery practices, including production costs, revenue, economics and marketing. For example, the book says: “Recently giant water bugs have been sold in frozen 10-bug packages in wholesale chain supermarkets throughout the country. Male bugs cost THB130/pack while females cost THB65/pack.”

The book also carries a warning: “The collection of edible insects in Thailand is an historic practice, but their farming is relatively new. Incomplete information nationwide indicates a growing and healthy industry. However, knowledge gaps regarding sustainable collection of wild insects and best management practices for farmed insects are a major risk for the industry. There is also a need for increased government involvement in the promotion of the industry and setting standards for food safety related to edible insects.”

The book ends on an optimistic note, saying: “Edible insects have huge potential as a protein source with significance both domestically and internationally in helping to feed the burgeoning global population.”

Contact
  • Patrick Durst, Regional Forestry Officer
    FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
  • John O Riddle, Interim Information Officer
    FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
    Tel: 662 697 4126, 668 1899 7354