Food for the hungry: crickets

Eileen McCormick / Khmer Times 1 Comment Share:
A farmer harvesting crickets in her traditional cricket farm. Supplied

Curran Hendry, with a background in development consulting, is a strong believer in the transformative power of sustainable social enterprises. In 2017 he joined forces with local edible insects enthusiast Dr. Tith Hong Yoeu along with Josh Galt from entovegan.com to lay out a framework to support the structural organisation and education of current and future cricket farmers. Changrit Kamleang was then launched with the long-term goal to help bring Cambodia to the forefront of global insect farming, in turn helping combat rural poverty and improving food security. Eileen McCormick recently caught up with Curran Hendry and he shared with her his interest in entomophagy (the human practice of eating insects) and his quest to make crickets a superfood.

Good Times2: What made you start cricket farming as a social enterprise in Cambodia?

Curran Hendry: In Cambodia and in Southeast Asia in general, entomophagy has been existing for a thousand years already. So within the region, there is really no stigma or biases towards eating of insects. It has been part of the culture and diet of so many groups of people. Also, there are already people who are into cricket farming here. So the idea was just to gather all these people involved in the same industry and help establish a cricket association.

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Good Times2: Was insect consumption always a thing in Southeast Asia?

Curran Hendry: I mean it’s been done for over a millennium. However, there was a time in Thailand when people started to move away from it during the British colonisation. In 1970s, the King was pushing for new initiatives to help people come out of poverty especially in rural areas of Thailand. So he saw the huge potential of insect farming and consumption and began a sort of an educational campaign to promote eating insects. There are actual case studies of asking children in the 70’s about insects which was considered gross then a follow up case study was made 15 years later where eating crickets had transformed into a common everyday practice. Nowadays, you can go to northern Thailand’s rural impoverished communities where kids go out into the field to collect crickets for their lunch. So it’s more of a community teambuilding of harvesting crickets.

A cricket farm in a village. Photo: Supplied

Good Times2: Are there already existing cricket associations in Cambodia before yours?

Curran Hendry: There’s none right now, that’s why we are trying to work on this association that we’re establishing. In Thailand, you have the government to help start uniformity among cricket farmers and it has worked, but there’s no mechanism of the same sort in Cambodia. This dilemma, of course, impacts the farmer’s ability to get a fair price for their products. The value chain for crickets or any rural products is at the whim of a middle man to get products sold in national markets.

Starting September, we will be holding trainings with current cricket farmers that we hope will join our larger cricket cooperative. We will also roll out trainings for people who want to be cricket farmers as well.

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As for anyone interested, we will also hopefully be able to share a training manual in Khmer on current best global sustainable practices for cricket farming. With all honesty, what’s already being done here is really good already, just minor changes on storage and cleaning cycles will help the industry grow more.

Good Times2: What is the startup cost of cricket farming? How much space does one need to start a farm?

Curran Hendry: It’s really low and only requires small pens that can be kept under your house. Crickets can be fed with chicken feeds and water when you’re starting out. You can have your first harvest in five weeks. It’s just a nice secondary livelihood that can be done anywhere in the country. Our association would like to see people utilising fruits and other organic feeds that can be used as the crickets’ food. All of these things are small investments, and within a year, you can see your investments and efforts paying off.

You do not need a huge area, just a small pen like under a wooden house. You can yield 200 kilos of crickets a month. There are some issues with population density but what’s interesting about this is that crickets go into survival mode and become bigger because they eat faster, knowing there might be limited food source.

Good Times2: How much do crickets cost in markets?

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Curran Hendry: The normal house crickets sell for about 12,000 to 15,000 riel ($3 to $3.75) a kilo. But when it’s sold by cans, the price can be around 2,000 riel. For coconut crickets, you can sell one can for two dollars or 50,000 riel for one kilo.

Good Times2: Is large-scale cricket farming practised globally?

Curran Hendry: In the West, we are taught that crickets or insects are pests and dirty; but while the concept may be changing among high-end bodybuilders or a small group of people there, I am not really sure if America and Europe are ready for large-scale productions. It’s funny when you think about how honey is basically bee waste and it’s highly prized globally. But for insect eating in the West, it’s mostly done for entertainment. But when you think of climate and general conditions for cricket farming, nowhere is as good as Southeast Asia.

Good Times2: What sparked the current cricket farming trend?

Curran Hendry: The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2013 published a 200-page report that covers insects as a potential new food source and how it might help with food security globally. Part of the science behind their findings is the life cycle of insects. Cricket life cycle is fast – it takes only about five to six weeks before you can harvest them. One female cricket lays hundreds of eggs so you can see on a large scale how this would yield huge harvest. The other huge potential of insects as a new food source is they are highly nutritious and have a really amazing food conversation ration, which means they don’t require much feed, land or water resources to raise them.

Good Times2: Are there any risk factors to crops or disease for cricket farming?

Curran Hendry: There is no large scale epidemic for crickets like bees for instance. The thing about crickets is that they are not easy to notice if something goes wrong with them. They could be doing great and then one day you wake up and they’re all dead. But this has less to do with disease; it’s more about the access to water and because you know, they are not super clever it easy for them to drown in a water. Another factor is the temperature – they really need hot, humid temperature. That’s why Cambodia is really ideal for this kind of industry.

Good Times2: Do different species of crickets yield different levels of protein?

Curran Hendry: Yes, the most popular in global cricket farming is this North American house cricket because they are resilient and have one of the highest amounts of protein. In Cambodia, there are three types: house cricket, iron cricket and honey cricket. The most popular is the honey cricket because of the flavour and size, which means the farms can get a higher price per yield when they sell it to the market. There is also a type of wild cricket that is not farmed, it’s called coconut cricket. Those are the ones they capture in the rice fields at night. What’s really interesting is that some of the trendiest, nicest night clubs in Phnom Penh offer these huge coconut crickets on their menu and they are very popular among elite club goers.

Good Times2: Do you have funding partners working with you on this project?

Curran Hendry: Yes, we do have some private donors who are doing it just to help and not really for investment purposes. We started with our personal funds, trying to get this project on the map. As we scaled up, we started looking for more long-term sustainable partners. And we’re still on that process right now.

This project is for all the cricket farmers across provinces and cities. But when we officially launch the association, we will first have it in places closer to Phnom Penh like Oudong and Takeo because there are already many farmers in these areas.

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