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Feed the World: Bugs

"Slimy, yet satisfying"

Jokes naturally followed the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s new report extolling the virtues of eating bugs.

The most popular tweet was a variant on “Let them eat cake.” Others pointed to the scene in the Disney movie the Lion King where Timon and Pumba introduce bugs to Simba. They assure Simba that bugs are “slimy, yet satisfying.”

It’s all in good fun and probably got more people to pay closer attention to an issue (hunger) in a report that would have otherwise only been discussed within development wonk circles.

Setting aside jokes and a gross-out-factor, bugs turn out to be a pretty awesome food. They pack some real protein punch and are better for the environment as compared to cows, pigs and chickens.

The Economist shows how:


“Forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than a billion people, including many of the world’s neediest. Forests provide food, fuel for cooking, fodder for animals and income to buy food,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva upon the release of the report. “Wild animals and insects are often the main protein source for people in forest areas, while leaves, seeds, mushrooms, honey and fruits provide minerals and vitamins, thus ensuring a nutritious diet.”

Roughly 2 billion people around the world include insects as a part of their traditional diet. 1,900 different insects are consumed by people with beetles (31%); caterpillars (18%); and bees/wasps/ants (14%) the most popular choices.

Children show off their termite harvest. Malava, Kenya.
Children show off their termite harvest. Malava, Kenya.
Tom Murphy

Termites are a favorite in Western Kenya. The bugs fly en mass from the ground when it rains, but nobody really wants to spend a day outside in the rain catching termites. People will beat the ground with thick sticks to simulate the sound of rain. Termites slowly float out of their holes in the ground, much like lightening bugs, making them easy to catch.

The wings fall off rather easily and the captured termites are stored in a container as the hunter continues snatching the termites from the air. Although they are best after fried in oil (taste like popcorn), a termite or two raw is a quick snack while collecting hundreds for cooking.

The collection and sale of bugs may provide a business opportunity for some people. Landless poor can collect insects in forests and sell them in order to make a living, says the report. The point of the report is not to say that people should eat bugs, but to point out that bugs provide a great potential, especially for feed, explained the report’s co-author Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division.

In order to make it a valuable change, countries will have to begin allowing bugs to be used in animal feed and enable an environment whereby people can farm insects.

“Domestication of insects is a win–win approach. The insects will be sustainably produced and at the same time the livelihoods of rural communities will continue to improve,” says Ousseynou Ndoye, FAO Cameroon.

“Slimy, yet satisfying.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]