Report Synopsis

Can carbon neutral insects be farmed profitably?

As the global population increases, the demand for meat and animal products is growing, leading to a greater need for protein in both human and animal diets. Soya is a key solution for the growing global protein demand but the entire process of cultivating, processing, and transporting soya-based feed contributes to significant carbon emissions.

Edible insects offer an alternative protein source suitable for both humans and animals. Insects require less space, water, and emit fewer greenhouse gases.

My Nuffield study tackles the central question: "Can we profitably farm carbon-neutral insects?"

My research journey has revealed that producing insects for food and feed is constrained by limitations in scale, high costs, and inconsistent quality. Improvements like automation, enhanced insect genetics, and optimized diets are crucial for advancing insect farming. Understanding insect diseases and pests is also vital.

After exploring various farms globally, I've found that carbon-neutral insect farming is possible when waste unsuitable for animal consumption becomes insect food. However, using valuable resources intended for animals or humans for insect farming is inefficient and costly. Many insect farms presently utilize soya-based materials, which contradicts the goal of reducing soya in animal feed. Utilizing livestock manure as insect food could be a strategic alternative, subject to careful risk assessment. Blending waste as a substrate for insects and integrating renewable energy can establish carbon-neutral insect farming as a viable option.

In the UK, supermarkets and feed producers alike are exploring soy alternatives in livestock diets. Both feed mills and livestock producers seek consistent, sustainable ingredients without soya. Currently, soya costs approximately £350 per tonne. For insect ingredients to compete, offering comparable protein content as soya (50%) at around £350 per tonne is crucial. However, insect meal's present price hovers around £3,500 per tonne. The cost price of insect products is the key barrier to success.

Prominent companies like AgriProtein, Enterra, and Ÿnsect have encountered profitability challenges or closures despite substantial investments. With rising living costs and changing spending patterns, the demand for costly and unfamiliar insect-based foods and feeds might stay limited.

In conclusion, Africa offers significant prospects for insect farming, serving as animal feed and human food sources. Overcoming challenges through ongoing research and innovation could position insect farming as a pivotal player in constructing sustainable and nutritious food systems.

Olivia's report summary video can be viewed on the Nuffield Farming YouTube Channel.

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