In around 80% of the world, edible insects are an established part of the local cuisine. In Thailand and Cambodia you can buy bags of deep-fried, seasoned or toasted grasshoppers, crickets or beetles on any street food market; Colombian fried and salted big-butt ants command premium prices amongst gourmets in Latin America.

But quite apart from individual cultural, ethnic and culinary preferences, insects are potentially a vital food source to feed the world’s rapidly growing population. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be some 9 billion people living on our planet. As a result, food production will have to almost double. At the same time, the existing eco-systems and environmental resources will continue to decrease.

Although the scientific field of edible insect research is still in its early years, many international research institutes and associations are convinced that raising insects for human consumption or for use as animal feed could play an important role in finding sustainable solutions to achieve global food security.

The UN’s Food & Agriculture Administration (FAO) has been involved in edible insect research projects since 2003. In 2013, the FAO published a 200-page report on the edible insect food and feed value chain, concluding that insect harvesting was especially relevant issue in the 21st century due to the rising cost of animal protein, food and feed insecurity, environmental pressures and population growth.

Besides their nutritional value, insects and bugs are easier to rear than other animals. They have a higher food conversion rate, which means that they need less feed than cattle, pigs or chicken to produce the same amount of animal protein. Raising insects also exerts less pressure on the environment: they produce less ammonia or greenhouse gases than conventional livestock.

In addition, the FAO report says, raising, processing and selling of insects can also contribute to the economic development in some of the poorest regions of the world, especially at a micro-economic level: insects are the ideal mini livestock for small householders since they require comparatively little technical or capital expenditure.

However, insect farming for food is now also starting to take off in developed countries – like the US, for example, where over the last few years numerous cricket farms have been established.