Sustainable crop growth with insect waste?

Plant ecologists suggest that people should eat more insects and use their waste to grow crops, as they provide additional nutrients to the soil we use

80% of countries around the world eat insects – a practice called entomophagy – as mass breeding insects for food is less environmentally harmful than other forms of protein production, and contributes to the sustainable production of crops worldwide.

When discussing the benefits of using residues from insect production as food and forage to promote sustainable crops, researchers are looking at approaches to enhance plant growth, health, pollination, and resilience.

Basically, they eat insects and use their droppings to give back to the earth.

Insect faeces are rich in nitrogen—a nutrient that has become scarce in most soils—which is often added to crops in synthetic fertilizers to promote both plant growth and health, and sustainable crop farming.

Because the exoskeletons of insects are rich in chitin, a polymer that is difficult to digest for most organisms, it is an excellent source of protein for humans. When digested in humans, it can have a positive effect on plants if added to the soil.

Eating insects as a new step towards a circular diet

published magazine Trends in plant sciencesD., a researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, looks at adding insect waste to crops as a step toward a circular diet where there is very little waste.

Promoting strange expectations for circular food production, insects – which the author referred to as “small livestock” – are indeed effective in agriculture, especially when compared to traditional livestock such as beef.

Producing one kilogram of beef requires about 25 kilograms of grass, which is the same amount of grass that can produce ten times the protein of edible insects. This is due to the insects’ higher conversion rate and because up to 90% of an insect’s body mass is edible, versus only 40% of a cow.

Insects, when feeding on waste streams from growing crops or food production, can provide humans with food when we use the residues of insect production to promote crop growth, which could close this cycle.

“Food leftovers from insect waste production come in two main forms: exuviae, the exoskeletons left behind after molting, and bedding, which is the name given to eating in Germany. Bread is insect droppings and unconsumed food,” said Marcel Deck.

However, there is a group of bacteria that can metabolize chitin, and those microbes help plants to be more resistant to diseases and pests. When exuviae are added to the soil, the numbers of these beneficial bacteria increase.”

Additionally, when an insect attacks a plant, its leaves can produce volatiles that attract pest predators, eliminating the pest problem on these sustainable crops as well.

A similar process may actually occur through the roots of plants, as the chitin-digesting microbes in insect waste may also act as security for the plants by breaking down pathogenic fungi and making the plant resilient to pests.

Crop resistance to pests

Dick added, “I’ve eaten crickets, mealworms, and locusts. A lot of people in our area need to get used to eating bugs, but I can tell you I’ve eaten many other types of insects around the world, and I’ve always had a great meal on them.”

I call it the plant’s cry for help. They recruit bodyguards.

Studies have already shown that root-related microbes help plants by protecting against disease. We are now investigating whether plant roots recruit microbes that help them defend against pests.”

The researchers plan to investigate the potential of insect waste as a pest control, as well as involve more people in their research to promote sustainable food production.

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