#WorldFoodDay: Become an entomologist and be a food hero

Posted on October 16, 2021

You know how you feel when you are hungry. It is difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, and you can become impatient. That feeling goes away after your next meal, but many are not so lucky. Globally, 795 million people are undernourished and lack regular access to adequate food. Many who are food insecure live in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half the adult population is at the risk of moderate to severe levels of food insecurity.

The challenge of addressing hunger is a priority for the global community, so on 16 October 1945, the United Nations established the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This day has since 1980 been commemorated as World Food Day to raise awareness on issues related to hunger and food security. Furthermore, to attain food security, end hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030, the UN set Zero Hunger as one of its Sustainable Development (SDGs).

So how can you help to solve the problem of food security, reach the SDG of zero hunger and become a food hero? Entomologists play a vital role in attaining food security, so come and study towards a BSc or BSc Hons in Entomology at the University of Pretoria.

Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from the male part (anther) to the female part (stigma) of a flower. This later results in fertilisation and the production of seeds. More than three-quarters of global food crops rely to some extent on animal pollination. Insects dominate pollinators, especially the more than 20,000 known bee species, flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, ants, and other insects. But at the same time, as the demand for food production increases every year, many wild bees and butterflies are declining in abundance. Entomologists are needed to investigate basic insect pollinator biology to work out why they are dying and how we can protect them.

Stingless bees (Meliponula sp) in their nest (Left) with the nest entrance (insert) and a female Carpenter bee (Xylocopa caffra) collecting pollen on the Experimental Farm of the University of Pretoria (right)

Managing insect pests
While many insect species are needed for food security, a tiny proportion of insects are pests that destroy one-fifth of the world’s yearly total crop production. Their adverse effects on food production are also expected to increase as the climate continues to change. These insect pests need to be managed, and this is mainly done using insecticides to kill them. These insecticides need to be studied for their mode of action and effect on non-target and beneficial insects such as pollinators before and during application. They can be used responsibly so that our food is safe and the environment is not harmed. More combined management strategies, like integrated pest management, are being developed to reduce or avoid the adverse effects of pesticides in a more balanced and cost-effective way. The responsibility for developing sustainable pest management strategies is shouldered by entomologists, whose work contributes not only to ensuring food security but to reducing the impact of insecticides and at the same time as climate change favours insect pests.

Edible insects
To feed the increasing human population in future, current food production will need to roughly double or increase at the same rate as our population. This increase may result in intensive production of single crops over larger areas. This will come with the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers. An alternative is to find more sustainable ways to attain food security. Rearing insects for human food or feed for our livestock has tremendous benefits. They require less land and water, emit fewer greenhouse gases, and more efficiently incorporate nutrients from their food into their bodies than livestock such as cattle, pigs, and poultry. Furthermore, insects are highly nutritious and have been used in many cultures as a healthy food source. Entomologists are needed to optimise the rearing procedure for insects, evaluate their nutritional value, and create value chains in the edible insect sector.

Please visit the UP Department of Zoology and Entomology website for further information and career prospects. You can also interact with us through Facebook.

Become an entomologist and be a food hero! Happy World Food Day!

- Author Dr Anja Buttstedt and Dr Abdullahi Yusuf
Published by Martie Meyer

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