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FAO man on mission to swap chicken wings for insects diet

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A vendor displays a plate of fried crickets at a local market in Vientiane, Laos. Raising crickets for food is considered as a solution to malnutrition in the country. Photo/AFP

A vendor displays a plate of fried crickets at a local market in Vientiane, Laos. Raising crickets for food is considered as a solution to malnutrition in the country. Photo/AFP 

By AFP

Posted  Wednesday, April 27  2011 at  00:00
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Serge Verniau is a man with a mission: to persuade the world to swap the chicken wings and steaks on their plates for crickets, palm weevils and other insects rich in protein and vitamins.

Verniau, the Laos representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is only half-joking when he says his dream is “to feed the big metropolises from Tokyo to Los Angeles, via Paris” with the small arthropods.

He plans to present the lessons drawn from a pilot project to the world at a conference on edible insects, probably in 2012.

“Most of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Trying to feed the whole planet enough protein from cows won’t work,” Verniau told AFP.

It is not by chance that the dream was born in landlocked Laos, one of the world’s poorest countries.

Almost one quarter of its population of six million people, and nearly 40 per cent of children below the age of five, suffer from malnutrition, according to figures from the Laos government.

The typical rice-based diet provides insufficient nutrients for development — a shortfall that could be filled by insects, highly rich in protein and vitamins.

Eaten as snacks, grilled or fried, they are already part of Laos cuisine, but most people do not know how to breed them, said Oudom Phonekhampheng, dean of the faculty of agriculture at the National University of Laos.

Different food

“They just take them in the wild and eat them, and then it is finished and destroyed. They have to think about the future,” he said.

In a modest building in the suburbs of the capital, his department’s laboratory collects scientific data on this new area of breeding.

Along with house crickets — which are already widely farmed in neighbouring Thailand — there are experiments in breeding mealworms, palm weevils and weaver ants, which are appreciated for their larvae.

The students are trying out different foods for the insects in an attempt to reduce costs while maintaining quality, explains Yupa Hanboonsong, a Thai entomologist supervising the project for the FAO.

Up to now, the roughly 20 cricket farms operating in Laos have used chicken feed, like thousands of Thai farms, but it is expensive and must be imported.

Vegetables or waste left over from the production of the national beer, BeerLao, could be one solution, said Yupa, who hopes to “train the whole country”.

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