Tracked farms: food of the future?

Two scientists and an entrepreneur are trying to come up withhow to feed the caterpillars of starving people in West Africa. For most people, the idea of ​​chewing on a caterpillar or crunching a tarantula will be rather unpleasant, to say the least. But according to the UN, about two billion people throughout the world regularly eat animals. Can insects be a serious source of food?

To address this issue, the team went toBurkina Faso in West Africa, where shi caterpillars are an important part of the local diet. In this country, more than 30% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 2.7 million people are at risk of food insecurity.

Charlotte Payne is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, currently conducting research on the life cycle of larvae.

“Shea caterpillars have the potential to help people escape poverty,” she told a BBC correspondent while staying on her farm in the rural area of ​​Sumuso in the west of Burkina Faso.

Currently, these tracks are only available.few weeks a year. But with their high levels of protein and trace elements, such as iron and zinc, they have the potential to fight back the “hidden hunger,” as micronutrient deficiencies are sometimes called, and to change the situation of the poorest people in West Africa, especially women and children.

How to breed caterpillars

Together with her colleague Daria Dobermann, a graduate student at the University of Nottingham, Charlotte is trying to crack the scientific code of shea caterpillars and make them available year round.

"Just like chickens in the backyard, females could have caterpillars," explains Charlotte.

While in Burkina Faso, Charlotte collects asYou can get more information about the needs and requirements of the local population. Its preliminary results show that breeding of caterpillars would be very appropriate in this area. “It would be great if I could grow caterpillars all year round, because I would have enough food and I would earn money by selling them,” says one woman in Sumuso.

To implement this idea, many obstacles will have to be overcome. At least the fact that the tracks - picky. They eat only leaves from shea trees.

Just as scientists spent years choosing the best feed for livestock, they also have to do it for caterpillars.

Environmentally friendly

Insects are often served as a panacea for environmental problems associated with the production of meat, because they emit less greenhouse gases and take up less space.

"Unfortunately, most of the insects thatgrown commercially, mainly feed on chicken feed. Chicken food is made from soy, and it is not very stable. Unless you transfer insects to waste as a source of food, they will be no more stable than the chicken from an environmental point of view, ”explains Daria.

In her lab in England, Daria willanalyze the leaves of shea trees to see why caterpillars like them so much. She will have to figure out which nutrient caterpillars are derived from the leaves, and understand how the specific smell of the leaves appears - the volatile aromatic compound - that attracts the caterpillars.

These leaves may have something particularly attractive that we can synthesize and spray on artificial food to attract caterpillars, she explains.

Not only Charlotte and Daria are trying to turn the caterpillars into a stable source of food. They work closely with local entrepreneur Kahita Hien, who also believes in the success of these nutrient creepers.

Baking caterpillars

Outside the factory Kahitu in the capital Ouagadougouthere is a huge cauldron filled with thousands of caterpillars that bubbles and fills the air with a sharp aroma. With its business FasoPro, Kahitu is trying to create an industry on the shea tracks. Before him, no one dared to do this.

Today, it sells 10 tons of caterpillars each year in markets and stores throughout the country. But the path to this was not easy.

“Many people laugh when they find out about my business,” Kahita explains, showing the room, from top to bottom filled with boxes of dry caterpillars.

Despite the fact that caterpillars are traditionally eaten in Burkina Faso, Kahit had a hard time convincing society that they need to eat more.

"At first it was difficult to find at least one store,where you can sell a product, but now I don’t even need to leave the office. Stores call me. When I think about it, I am proud of myself and my business. ”

The entrepreneur hopes to extend this business model to other countries, because local insectable food insects are everywhere.

According to UN forecasts, by 2050 there will bethere are 9 billion people, and food production will grow by 70%. We may all have to get used to the taste of insects. Whatever they may be unpleasant, they can play a major role in food culture. However, you first have to learn how to handle them in an environmentally friendly way. Saving bugs?