Understanding Insects as an Underutilized Tool for Sustainable Food Systems

In 2019, a team of UC Davis researchers and students, including PhD student Ferisca Putri, discovered an “underutilized tool” that could solve the growing threat to human food systems: insects.

“Over five million tons of agricultural byproducts are generated each year in California alone,” said Putri, an amount she explained is expected to grow as the global population reaches an estimated 9 billion by 2050. “We realized that insect bioconversion could be a profitable and sustainable innovation to deal with organic byproducts.” 

After initial research, Putri and her team launched BioMilitus, a sustainable business that harvests black soldier fly larvae and utilizes agricultural byproducts such as stems, and pulp, as feedstock. Once the insects are cultivated, the team transforms the larvae into a protein-rich, sustainably made animal feed, a product that traditionally relies on unsustainable ingredients like soybean, corn, and fishmeal.  

Through the Big Ideas process, the BioMilitus team was paired with mentor Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s, a sustainable pet food and treats company that uses insect protein as its main ingredients. 

“Anne Carlson’s knowledge and insight in the commercial insect industry have helped us tremendously in shaping our business model and commercialization efforts,” said Putri

In addition to eliminating food byproducts, transitioning animal feed away from unsustainable ingredients, and diverting organic materials from landfill, the BioMilitus process also produces a byproduct that can curb carbon emissions. 

“One of the products from the insect bioconversion process is insect frass, a biologically active compost like material,” said Putri. Her team hopes to use this insect frass as a soil amendment to improve soil health and help with carbon sequestration on California farms.  

By the end of the year, Putri and her team expect to use at least 10 tons (20,000 lbs) of food byproducts and produce about one ton of insect protein, but they are just getting started. 

“I am confident that insects are key to the future of sustainable farming,” said Putri.

Live pitches on Sept 23!

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