Reflections on the 4th International Conference on Insects as Food and Feed

PhD graduate George Sekonya looks back at a recent international conference where he presented a paper on the mopane worm trade in southern Africa.

This year’s 4th Insects to Feed the World Conference took place in Quebec, Canada from 12 – 16 June 2022. As a hybrid event comprising in-person and online sessions, it allowed presenters and participants from anywhere in the world to take part. Despite the challenges posed by of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the familiar interactions found at conferences, the event underscored the progress made by researchers and members of industry around mainstreaming insects as food and feed. Although the conference had a strong focus on experimentation, process optimisation, biosafety research, and the commercial potential of insects, some sessions looked at consumers’ perceptions, harvesting and traditional insect consumption. Although commercialisation of insects holds potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, the majority of insect consumers still source their supplies from forests, woodlands, and savannas rather than from production facilities. It is important for researchers, policy makers and industry to pay attention to these wild populations and the social systems and institutions centred around their access and use.

Dr George Sekonya presented a paper from his recently concluded PhD, entitled “Navigating the governance and commercialisation pitfalls in edible insect informal crossborder trade”. The PhD was supervised by Professor Wynberg and supported by South Africa’s National Research Foundation through the Bio-economy Research Chair. In his paper George examined and analysed governance and commercialisation arrangements for mopane worms, and the strategies used by actors to navigate constraints and maximise benefits across the trade. The paper follows results from George’s thesis which found that mopane worm regulation has been marred by inconsistencies, institutional incapacity and regulatory constraints. These result from the use of poorly designed regulatory tools which place unintended pressures on mopane worm harvesters, dealers, and traders. In addition to institutional constraints, relational constraints such as exclusionary practices had a multiplier effect on the threats to ecologically-sound harvesting practices and the sustainability of mopane worm populations, with significant implications for resource governability and the livelihoods of actors in the value chain.

The strong socio-ecological orientation of the paper underscores the relevance of maintaining the links between food traditions and associated belief systems and practices. Rich history and belief systems exist around insect harvesting and consumption which help to serve the ecologically important role of conservation and the sustainable access and use of these resources. Insects used for traditional food remain relevant although there has been a shift from harvesting insects in the global south to farming insects for food and feed applications globally. Nonetheless, the 4th Insects to Feed the World Conference provided a useful platform for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to share knowledge and expertise to advance the utilisation of insects in support of sustainable food systems.

For more, read the following article on Dr Sekonya’s research by Sheree Bega of the Mail & Guardian: ‘Vibrant’ cross-border trade in mopane worms from Botswana to South Africa.

Photo: George Sekonya