Insect and hydroponic farming: An innovative solution for Africa’s food security crisis in fragile and conflict countries
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Hunger almost always follows conflict. Conflict negatively impacts economic activity and disrupts access to markets— often affecting smallholder farmers more acutely. And as recent events have shown, when countries at war are large exporters of food like Ukraine and Russia, people living thousands of miles away can be impacted by a halt in exports of essential agricultural commodities such as wheat, sunflower oil, and fertilizers.
The effects of malnutrition on a society can last decades. Declines in childhood development, economic productivity, and people’s general well-being are just some of the lingering effects of acute food insecurity.
In February 2022, 282 million people were experiencing hunger in Africa, more than double the proportion of any other region in the world. Conditions are deteriorating across East Africa, where 7.2 million people are at risk of starvation and another 26.5 million face acute food insecurity. The situation in African countries experiencing fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is much worse—29% of the population experiences food insecurity, compared to 18% in non-FCV countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. There are also huge variabilities in the numbers. For example, in the conflict-affected country of Cameroon 13% experience hunger compared to over 50% the population in Mali, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso.
But new innovative agricultural technologies that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day with nutritious food can be part of the solution to reverse this trend.
Our new report, looks at the benefits of expanding frontier agricultural technologies within a circular food economy in FCV countries in Africa. It looks at how insect and hydroponic farming can create jobs, diversify livelihoods, and improve nutrition. These technologies work in locations with limited resources – such as water and arable land – which is a major challenge in FCV countries. Insect and hydroponic farming also save farmers money and government’s hard currency reserves by reducing purchases of food, animal feed, and fertilizers. This is particularly important today given supply problems and price increases of food, feed, and fertilizer.
About 1 to 2 billion people globally consume insects, including in Africa. Insects are more environmentally sustainable than other animal proteins and more nutritious than soybean protein. But currently, insects are mainly collected in the wild, posing potential dangers. Insects foraged in the wild could be eating crops sprayed with harmful pesticides. Over-harvesting insects can increase the risk of running down the ecosystems, as seen with the Mopane worms in southern Africa. Insects collected in the wild are seasonal and mostly unavailable in the lean season.
Farming insects can provide a healthy and all-year protein supply of nutritious food for humans, livestock, and fish – right now, we often use fish to feed livestock and fish. Operations can be established at a low cost, opening up opportunities for climate-resilient jobs, including for women, youth, and refugees who often live in locations with limited resources. They can be established in arid areas and cities, while at the same time conserving biodiversity and other essential natural resources. We can feed insects with organic waste, such as household, agriculture, or brewery waste, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating climate-resilient livelihoods. Waste from insects can then be fed back into the system as organic fertilizers to help improve soil health.
These innovative approaches can strengthen the African food system, and fits a circular economy that can complement conventional farming.
Each year the number of new entrants and markets for insects around the world increases. It is estimated that the global market for insects as food and animal feed will be worth up to $8 billion by 2030, a 24% annual growth rate over the next decade. South Korea’s insect market was valued at $220 million in 2018 and is anticipated to reach $290 million in 2022—making this country a world leader in insect farming.
Survey data collected for the report in 13 African countries show that there are already 850 insect farms that produce insects for food and feed in these countries. Imagine collecting 30% of agriculture waste of the top five crops in the top 10 African agriculture economies and feeding it to Black Soldier Flies. This would result in:
- replacing 60 million tons of traditional fish and soy-based-animal feed, which is enough protein to meet up to 14% of the crude protein needed to rear all the pigs, goats, fish, and poultry in Africa;
- creating 15 million direct and indirect jobs; incomes, and livelihoods, along the value chain; and
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of taking 18 million cars off the road annually.
Farming insects and hydroponic crops can be part of efforts to improve peacebuilding and resilience to fragility, conflict, and violence through the creation of more stable and sustainable food system that provide economic opportunities using fewer natural resources.
With these findings, we have started to pilot insect farming for food and feed in selected countries in Africa and work towards contributing to world’s climate, food, and nutrition security crisis. The team continues to collaborate with the Government of Korea. This report was supported by the World Bank Korea Trust Fund for Economic and Peacebuilding Transitions (KTF).
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