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Exploring the potential of insect protein for food security in ASEAN

By Alex Hong

May 15 2023 · 29 min read

Illuminem Voices
Food · Sustainable Lifestyle · illuminemX

Introduction

Since there is an increasing need for protein sources due to the growing global population, it is necessary to look for alternative sources that can sustainably meet this requirement. Traditional protein sources like meat and fish have limited availability and environmental impacts, particularly in ASEAN countries where resources may be scarce.

Insect protein has become a potential alternative to traditional protein sources due to its high nutritional value, minimal environmental impact, and ability to be produced efficiently at scale. The technology of insect farming has recently made it easier to produce and incorporate insect protein into the food system, and many societies already include insects as part of their meals.

What possible impacts might insect protein have on the food security of ASEAN? We will examine how insect protein may impact ASEAN countries in terms of its nutritional value, commercial viability, impact on the environment, and cultural acceptance in order to provide a response. We anticipate that this analysis will provide readers with a complete understanding of the potential benefits and challenges of adding insect protein to the ASEAN food chain.

Current situation in the quest for alternative proteins in ASEAN

Food security in ASEAN

To solve the issues with food security that ASEAN members are facing, insect farming has been suggested as a viable alternative. Insect farming is regarded as a feasible, cost-effective, and ethical way to produce protein, as traditional agriculture is expected to fall 40% short of the world’s food supply demands by 2050.

Insects, such as mealworms and crickets, can be utilised as animal feed in aquaculture and livestock farming and offer a high-protein, low-carbon alternative to conventional livestock. Insects have demonstrated significant promise as a sustainable source of protein, and the global market for insect farming is estimated to reach $1.18 billion by 2023.

A study found that the feed and labour margins for producing T. molitor ranged from € 7,620 to € 13,770 per tonne of fresh larvae, while the feed margins for producing A. domesticus ranged from € 12,268 to € 78,676 per tonne of larvae meal. Because insects need less feed and water than conventional livestock and because their waste may be utilised as fertiliser, insect farming is also environmentally benign.

With a Swedish insect farm employing Cogastro’s software to run their farm, insect farming has also attracted notice in Europe. New insect-based food products have also been created as a result of insect farming’s sustainability, such as Mars Petcare’s Lovebug line of cat treats.

23 nations had enacted 29 food export bans as of March 13, 2023, and ten had enacted 14 export restrictions. According to the Global Report on Food Crisis 2022 Mid-Year Update, up to 205 million people in 45 countries are anticipated to experience severe food insecurity and require immediate assistance. As a sustainable and environmentally friendly method of producing protein, insect farming has the potential to address the problem of food security in ASEAN.

Insect protein as an alternative

A healthy substitute for traditional protein sources like meat, fish, and soybeans is emerging: insect protein. Insects are incredibly nourishing since they are rich in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Since it consumes fewer resources and produces fewer greenhouse gases than traditional protein sources, insect farming is also more environmentally beneficial. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that a kilogram of beef generates 2,850 grams of greenhouse gases (GHG), a kilogram of pork generates 1,130 grams of GHG, and a kilogram of crickets generates just around 2 grams of GHG.

By using recycled organic waste, insect farming may also produce cheap protein, reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing insect protein. Depending on the food, species, and testing methods, insects’ nutritional value varies, but most scientists agree that they are extraordinarily rich in protein, fat, and vitamins. Insect protein has been shown to be a good replacement for conventional protein sources in animal diets because of its high palatability and capacity to replace up to 100% of soy meal or fishmeal, depending on the species of animal and bug.

Insect farming is on the rise, and Thailand is a good example of this. There, cricket farming has increased and is connected to exports of cricket, which mostly reach EU markets. The nation also has a sizable grill and pork industries, both of which have the potential to switch to an insect-based diet. Companies like Aspire have so far raised $21.6 million in funding, demonstrating the strong amount of money that is moving into the insect sector.

Existing research on the use of insect protein in food systems

Numerous studies have produced encouraging results despite the dearth of research on the use of insect protein in food systems. According to a Thai study, employing cricket powder as a protein source in baked goods and snacks showed no detrimental effects on the sensory quality of those products. According to a different study carried out in Cambodia, insects can be used to improve traditional meals and increase their nutritional value.

In addition, a Dutch study discovered that making meatballs with mealworms in place of 10% of the meat reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5%. Similar to this, another study discovered that changing the diet of Nile tilapia from fishmeal to black soldier fly larvae meal lowered the environmental impact of fish farming.

A growing interest in and demand for insect protein in food systems is also indicated by the Global Market Insights prediction that the edible insect market may approach $1.5 billion by 2026. Insect farming research is being expanded with the launch of the Centre for Environmental Sustainability Through Insect Farming, which was funded by a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant. Insect protein has the potential to replace traditional protein sources in food systems with a healthy, sustainable alternative, according to an expanding body of research.

Existing regulations and policies related to insect protein in ASEAN:

One country that has been at the forefront of this effort is Thailand, which is currently considered a leader in the field of entomophagy. The nation has already put in place legislation to make it easier to raise insects for human consumption and to guarantee food safety. Insect protein has also been studied as a potential source of nourishment in Cambodia and Vietnam, where rules for its use in food items are also being considered.

In spite of the absence of specific legislation or regulations governing insect protein in ASEAN, producers and manufacturers are nevertheless bound by the laws and policies currently in place for food safety and quality. For instance, any products containing insect protein would have to abide by the laws and principles of the ASEAN members regarding food labelling, quality, and safety. Producers and manufacturers would have to guarantee that the goods are clean, correctly labelled, and wholesome.

Insect protein can also be much more environmentally friendly than conventional protein sources like beef, pork, or chicken. As a result, insect protein has the potential to be a key component of sustainable food systems. However, there are worries that, if not properly managed, insect farming could have a harmful influence on biodiversity and the ecosystem. Regulations and policies that encourage sustainable insect farming methods and guarantee that insect production doesn’t hurt the environment must be in place in order to reduce these dangers.

Even though ASEAN doesn’t have any formal laws or regulations governing insect protein, a few of its members have been looking into it and are considering creating standards to oversee its use in food items. Producers and makers of goods containing insect protein must still abide by all applicable laws, rules, and guidelines regarding the quality and safety of food. It’s crucial to have laws and policies that support sustainable insect farming practises in place to make sure the industry is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Implications of insect protein for ASEAN

As ASEAN countries try to fulfill the rising need for protein, insect protein is growing in popularity as a workable alternative to traditional protein sources. In this section, we’ll examine the potential effects of insect protein on ASEAN in terms of its nutritional value, environmental impact, capacity to increase biodiversity, and adoption barriers resulting from cultural and legal considerations.

Nutritional value of insect protein

Insects have a wealth of nutrients, including premium protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Insects can have a protein level that ranges from 20% to 70%, depending on the species, which is comparable to the protein content of traditional protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs. As a significant source of amino acids, particularly essential ones that the body cannot produce on its own and must obtain from the diet, insect protein is also a wonderful source of protein.

When compared to other protein sources like plant protein isolates, for example, insect protein’s amino acid profiles are exceptional and regarded as rich. In addition, edible insects are a good source of energy, high-quality protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), as well as a variety of easily accessible vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, calcium, and B vitamins.

The nutritional value of insects varies greatly depending on the species, stage of development, and processing technique. The protein content is typically between 25–75%, though. Animal fiber, which is abundant in chitin and other polysaccharides that are good for gut health, is another component of edible insects.

Insect protein is generally quite digestible and includes all nine necessary amino acids that the human body needs. Insect protein can be regarded as a high-quality protein source for human consumption, despite the fact that protein isolates from plants often have less anabolic effects compared to animal proteins due to their lower essential amino acid content and lower digestibility. Furthermore, because they are simple to raise, need less water and feed than conventional cattle, and can be gathered all year round, edible insects have been suggested as a potential solution to the problem of food insecurity.

Environmental impact of insect protein:

Due to its minimal impact on the environment, insect protein has become more and more popular as an alternative to traditional animal protein. According to several studies, insect farming is a more sustainable alternative in the long run than conventional animal farming because it uses less land, water, and feed.

Insect farming has a low carbon impact, which is one of its main advantages. Insects contribute less to global warming than cattle or pigs because they produce less ammonia and fewer greenhouse gases (GHG). In addition, insects have high feed conversion efficiency, requiring less feed per kilogramme of protein generated. In fact, raising insects could require up to 100 times less water than raising beef to generate the same amount of protein. As a result, raising insects for food is a much more effective and sustainable way to obtain protein.

Insects may also turn low-value organic by-products into high-quality protein that can be used in animal feed, including food and human waste, compost, and animal slurry. This means that producing useful food sources while also reducing waste and pollution emissions is possible with insect farming.

In addition, in the face of climate change, insect farming offers a more flexible and robust farming method. In comparison to conventional cattle, insects can withstand a greater range of temperatures and humidity levels, making them less vulnerable to climatic pressures like heat waves and droughts. Insect farming may also be more sustainable in the long term due to the fact that it can be conducted on organic waste streams.

Insect protein has a significantly lower environmental impact than typical animal husbandry. Insects can be raised on organic waste streams, require less land, water, and feed, and release fewer greenhouse gases. Additionally, insect farming is more climate-tolerant and flexible. Insect protein has the potential to greatly reduce our environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future as a result of its use as a food and feed source.

Potential for promoting biodiversity:

Through the preservation and use of a greater variety of insect species, insect farming has the potential to support biodiversity. Given that insects are the most diverse group of living things on Earth, with over a million species now recognised and an estimated five to thirty million more yet to be discovered, this is very significant. Insect farming can assist in reducing the use of pesticides and preventing the adverse effects of pesticides on insect species that are not targeted by boosting the consumption of insects that are now considered pests and are targeted for eradication.

Insect farming can also be used to protect and preserve insect species that are in danger of extinction. A wide range of insect products, such as food, feed, and fertilisers, might be produced by insect farming and could take the place of conventional goods generated from other animals, such as fish and livestock. By reducing the demand for traditional animal products, which are frequently linked to deforestation and habitat destruction, biodiversity can be preserved.

In addition, using insect-based fertilisers in farming can improve soil health and boost biodiversity. Insect-based fertilisers are nutrient-rich and can enhance soil quality, which promotes more diverse and abundant plant growth. This can then attract a greater variety of insect species, increasing biodiversity even more.

Through the preservation and use of a greater variety of insect species, insect farming has the potential to support biodiversity. This can be accomplished by using fewer pesticides, safeguarding insect species that are in danger of extinction, and encouraging healthy soil and greater plant development, which will boost biodiversity.

Cultural and regulatory barriers to adoption

As a productive and efficient source of protein for both humans and animals, insect farming is gaining popularity. In some areas, notably the ASEAN nations, the adoption of insect protein still faces substantial obstacles due to cultural and legislative hurdles.

Consuming insects is frowned upon or regarded as filthy in many ASEAN countries, which may lead to cultural opposition to the use of insect protein. In these marketplaces, it is challenging for insect farmers to acquire traction and generate revenue because of this stigma. Additionally, insect farmers find it difficult to follow regulations because regulatory frameworks for insect farming and processing are frequently inadequate and current limits are focused on conventional animal farming.

It is essential to remove cultural and legal barriers and develop efficient farming and processing techniques in order to address these issues. To further promote insect protein as a viable and sustainable protein source and to raise awareness of the health and environmental benefits of insect protein, advocacy and education are also required. It is possible to overcome cultural and regulatory constraints and turn insect protein into a valuable protein source for ASEAN and other regions with the right education and growth of the insect farming sector.

In addition, according to a recent article in the Straits Times, sixteen species of insects such as crickets, silkworms, and grasshoppers will receive the green light from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) for human consumption in the second half of 2023. This is a strong signal by the Singapore government on the emphasis the country places on food security through alternative protein and other means. This is also a significant boost to ASEAN’s continued quest for food security to protect the region’s interests while realising sustainability ambitions.

Case studies

Examples of successful insect protein businesses in ASEAN

There are several successful insect protein businesses in ASEAN, each with a unique manufacturing and marketing strategy. One such company is Bugsolutely, from Thailand, which produces pasta using cricket flour. The company has expanded into other regional countries as its popularity has increased in Thailand. Another one of them is the Vietnamese company Cricket One, which produces flour and treats from crickets. Cricket One has received funding from international agencies and accolades for its use of sustainable and eco-friendly production methods.

There are more prosperous insect protein firms in ASEAN worth mentioning in addition to these two instances. Ento Industries, a Singaporean business that creates protein bars and snacks from insects, is one of them. Ento Industries has drawn notice for its creative strategy for product development and branding, employing puns and humour based on insects to draw in customers. Another illustration is the Malaysian business EntoGenex, which specialises in the creation of animal feed made from insects. EntoGenex has been recognised for its work promoting the use of insect protein as a sustainable substitute for conventional feed sources in an effort to lessen the environmental impact of livestock farming.

The success of these businesses is a result of numerous things. One of them is the rising demand for environmentally friendly food sources and the acceptance of insect protein as a competitive alternative to conventional sources of protein. Another aspect is the business owners’ innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, which has allowed them to create marketable, distinctive products and marketing approaches. Additionally, a lot of these companies have gotten funding from governmental bodies, non-profits, and investors who are aware of the market potential for insect protein.

It’s critical to overcome a number of issues in order to expand production and promote insect protein as a mainstream food source. These include raising the understanding and acceptability of insect-based goods among consumers, making production processes more effective and economical, and removing legal obstacles relating to labelling and food safety. To develop new goods and applications for this developing business, as well as to better understand the nutritional and environmental advantages of insect protein, more study is also required.

Overall, the success of these insect protein companies in ASEAN demonstrates the potential of this sector to support regional economic growth and sustainable food systems. These companies may contribute to the expansion of the insect protein market and the advancement of a more resilient and sustainable food future by solving the issues and carrying on with innovation.

Analysis of factors contributing to their success

These businesses all place a strong emphasis on sustainability and environmental responsibility, which contributes to their success. Since the production of insect protein has a lower environmental impact than the production of conventional protein sources like beef, pork, and chicken, these firms have profited. They have also stressed the nutritional benefits of insect protein as well as its high protein and low-fat composition.

Another factor in these businesses’ success is their ability to market their products effectively. They created inventive and appealing packaging using social media to reach a larger audience. Additionally, they have worked with restaurants and food companies to bring their products to menus and recipes.

Lessons learned for scaling insect protein production

With the promise to produce sustainable animal feed and even protein for human use, insect farming is a fast-expanding industry. By 2030, the insect protein market is projected to be worth USD 7.96 billion, expanding at a rate of 27.8% per year. To achieve this expansion, the sector must figure out how to increase the volume of insect protein produced. The following are some tips for scaling up the production of insect protein:

1. Sustainability and environmental responsibility: A lot of prosperous insect protein producers place a lot of emphasis on sustainability and environmental care. For instance, Black Soldier Fly larvae are used by FlyFarm, a sustainable insect farming firm, to transform organic waste into high-quality protein while lowering waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Emerging insect protein companies may find market success by adopting these strategies.

2. Creating effective marketing plans: Creating effective marketing plans is a key component of scaling up insect protein production. For instance, the pet food industry, which now represents the largest market for insect protein, is one of the customers of Ÿnsect, a French business engaged in insect farming. It may be possible to increase demand and promote growth by creating effective marketing strategies that speak to the appropriate audiences and clearly convey the advantages of insect protein.

3. Establishing alliances with well-known food companies: Partnering with well-known food companies might open up new distribution options and markets, which would aid in expanding output. For instance, the largest insect protein farm in the world will be built by Archer Daniels Midland and InnovaFeed. It will generate 60,000 tonnes of insect protein a year for use in animal feed. Emerging insect protein firms may find success by collaborating with well-established food companies.

4. Investing in R&D: To scale up the production of insect protein, it is essential to invest in R&D to create new products and enhance manufacturing effectiveness. For instance, the National Science Foundation’s $2.2 million in funding helped build the Centre for Environmental Sustainability through Insect Farming, which would concentrate on creating sustainable insect farming methods and technology. Emerging insect protein companies may benefit from investing in R&D to help them remain innovative and competitive.

Lessons learned from successful businesses can be used to improve ASEAN’s insect protein manufacturing strategies. These include emphasising sustainability and environmental responsibility, creating effective marketing strategies, partnering with well-known food companies, and spending money on research and development to create new goods and increase manufacturing effectiveness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, insect protein has the potential to be a viable and sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources, and ASEAN is growing increasingly interested in this possibility. According to our analysis of the literature, food security remains a significant issue in the region despite a growing demand for protein due to factors like limited land and water resources, climate change, and population growth. Insect protein, which is a highly nutritious and sustainable source of protein, may be a solution to these issues, according to studies.

The case studies that were looked at in this article show that there are insect protein companies that are successfully operating in ASEAN and have overcome some of the challenges that have prevented the production of insect proteins, such as consumer resistance and regulatory constraints. These companies have learned the importance of factors including product innovation, strategic partnerships, and effective marketing and communication strategies.

It is clear how this will impact practise and policy. Insect protein should be developed as a substitute protein source with assistance from governments and other ASEAN participants. This might comprise funding R&D to improve insect farming methods, providing financial incentives to encourage entrepreneurship in the production of insect protein, and assisting with outreach and education programmes to increase consumer acceptance.

Future research may focus on bridging some of the knowledge gaps regarding the potential impact of insect protein on ASEAN’s food security. The nutritional value of different insect species, the environmental implications of insect farming, and the sociocultural factors that can affect consumer acceptance of insect-based food products, for example, all call for more in-depth study. Overall, this study suggests that in order to solve challenges with food security in ASEAN, efforts should be made to support the growth of insect protein as a sustainable protein source.

This article was also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Alex Hong has over 20 years of experience in executive and tertiary education. He has led cross-tertiary teams in development, curation, faculty/programme management, and business development in education and eLearning projects. He is actively involved in Climate/Biodiversity/ESG-related business matchmaking and conferences regionally. Alex is LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) in Singapore 2022 and represents the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia. He is also part of the Youth Networking Business Committee of Asia (YNBC) and contributes to his community by volunteering as a mentor for a Singapore-based start-up incubator.

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