Climate change is a truth that no one can escape. After all, the ravages of the impact that we humans have suffered are feeling today firsthand, with 2020 being the hottest year since the 1880s. Likewise, natural disasters, such as the 'Dixie Fire' that has burned entire towns in California or the constant appearance of hurricanes, like the recent Ida.

Despite this, and although the effects are not only known but also felt, the last report of the United Nations indicated that the planet will continue to rise in temperature for at least the next 30 years. The fight, now, is to try not to exceed the 1,5 degrees that are planned. Nevertheless, Although industrial and consumer waste undoubtedly help to intensify global warming, a little-discussed topic is that of nutritional habits and their impact on the Earth. 

An invisible impact

In a study published in the 2019 journal Science, There was strong advice: quitting meat is "the best way" to reduce your impact on Earth. The analysis has been one of the most comprehensive to date, counting 40.000 farms in 119 countries, and perhaps its greatest achievement was putting into concrete numbers the impact of some of the largest and most necessary industries, such as of the cattle ranch and the raising of animals for consumption. 

In total, more than 80% of the agricultural space is used for raising animals, but its consumption only represents 18% of calories consumed and it also represents 60% of the total greenhouse gases produced by the agricultural sector. Every 100 grams of animal protein represents 105 kg of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

In recent years, in the face of this increasingly uncomfortable reality, the challenge has been to find ways so that food production does not have to run counter to positive goals for the environment. "Let's think about the acceptance that it would have in the market to know that the pork or chicken meat that one is consuming was obtained in a sustainable way and using fewer resources", says Johan Sebastián Chávez Mosquera, student of agroindustrial engineering at the Universidad del Cauca and representative of Colombia in the Youth Summit for Agriculture YAS 2021.

And it is precisely at this summit where young people from various countries have come together to seek the answer to an increasingly urgent question: How to feed a hungry planet with fewer and fewer resources? For Chávez, the answer to this may lie in insects and in the development of habits that have the potential to change the face of an industry that in the eyes of many is becoming less and less sustainable. 

Black soldier fly flour can help implement a more sustainable food system. Image: WikiMedia

Looking for a friendlier agriculture

In the field of agriculture, one of the important problems is how to feed the animals. Many of the animals we consume feed on flours manufactured especially for agriculture, which in Colombia is sometimes known as 'purine'. Despite this, as the appetite and the population of the countries grow, each year more flour is needed to feed the animals.  

For some decades, important advances have been made, especially in issues such as soy-based flour or fishmeal. However, due to global scaling, this type of flours is also having negative consequences. Soybean cultivation poses moral challenges (Why not just feed more people soy?), As well as environmental and deforestation. 

For its part, fish-based meal is highly regulated in countries such as Peru, the largest producer worldwide. This regulation was reinforced during 2015 and 2016 to prevent the collapse of the peaceful ecosystem and the Humboldt Current. –The largest marine environment on the planet–. The fish trapped destined for the manufacture of flour - called anchovies - are also the link of many marine species that need these types of fish to survive and that now compete for food with an increasingly hungry industry. 

A soldier fly

Faced with this double-edged problem, the secret of sustainability may lie in a smaller world: that of insects. "There is a need, and it is to look for new sources of more sustainable proteins, and within these there is the production of insects", says Chávez. 

"If you had a 100-square-meter soldier fly production facility, you could obtain the same level of protein, the same level of protein that is obtained with 100 hectares of soybean crops, according to research."

Sebastián Chávez Mosquera, representative of Colombia in the Youth Summit for Agriculture YAS 2021.

He, along with his team of young students from the agricultural sector, proposes the black soldier fly as one of the insects with the most potential to change the industry. According to Chávez, this fly has a nutritional profile with a high level of protein, a good fat content and a relatively favorable profile of amino acids - the base molecules of proteins. In the same way, this fly is characterized by having a higher calcium content compared to other insects. 

These flies can be cultivated and then processed to create the flour that feeds the animals we consume. “You already have the image of some common forms of production that are not considered sustainable, such as livestock or pig farming due to the environmental impact behind them. If sustainable sources such as protein from insects are used, this image can be changed ”, Explica.

Johan Sebastián Chávez. Image: YAS 2021

In the same way, these flies are positive for the agricultural ecosystem, especially since they consume organic waste, do not transmit diseases, do not bite and are not an invasive species. In fact, the same waste from the fly and its larvae can be reused in plants and crops. If the economy of the past was based on consumption, sustainable agriculture will be based on efficiency.

“The larvae of these insects feed on organic waste that can come from the farm itself and on kitchen waste. It is the concept of circular economy, the use of waste to produce food ", explains Sebastián Chávez. Ultimately, this ability to better use resources and find new ways for this circular economy will be one of the defining points in climate change.

Regardless of whether we as individuals consume animal products or not, the truth is that the challenge of feeding more and more people without the planet suffering is a gigantic task. Initiatives like that of Chávez and his team show that sometimes it is important to look at our ecosystems and perhaps we will find that the answers lie in the nutrients of insects and in the minds of young people. 

Main Image: Wikimedia