THANON NANG KLARN, Thailand (AP) — Depending solely on the rains to either yield a good rice crop or leave their fields dry and barren, farmers in this village in northeastern Thailand, the country’s poorest region, led a precarious and back-breaking existence.
At Boontham Puthachat’s home, six concrete pens seethe with crickets munching on chicken feed, pumpkins and other vegetables — treats to fatten them up before they are harvested and sold to hungry humans increasingly eager for a different type of dining experience. Boontham’s family is one of 30 in this village raising mounds of the profitable crisp and crunchy critters in their backyards, satisfying a big domestic appetite for edible insects, and a slowly emerging international one in countries where most diners would rather starve than sample fried grasshoppers or omelets studded with red ant eggs.
While it may still seem exotic, if not outright repulsive, to many in the Western world, the FAO points out that insects have long been an integral part of human diets in nearly 100 countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, with more than 1,600 species consumed. In recent times, cockroach farming has flourished, with some entrepreneurs getting rich by selling dried cockroaches to companies producing cosmetics and traditional medicines.
Besides generating extra income, insects have proven nutritious and farming them is easy on the environment, according to a 2013 FAO report. Energy bars made from ground-up crickets are now found in some health food stores in the United States, and the first cricket farm is scheduled to open in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, this year. To boost their business, the village cricket farmers have formed a loose cooperative to share information and facilitate marketing.