By Emma Dobson
Emma Dobson is a nutritionist interning with VWB/VSF Canada in Laos.
This month two members from VWB/VSF’s micro livestock team in Laos visited Thailand to see how this neighboring country farms crickets. Thailand has already been farming crickets for nearly twenty years, and around 20,000 farmers raise crickets for human consumption. In contrast, cricket farming in Laos is very new and had almost no producers before 2010. The village to see was Ban San Tor in Khon Kaen province, located in the north east of the country, which boasts sixty-six farmers producing crickets. The scale of these farms is much larger than anything we’ve seen in Laos, with many farmers operating dozens of large cages. This village is serious about crickets, not only because you see a giant cricket statue at the front entrance- they are also producing 15 tonnes of the insect every month, enough to make crickets their main source of income.
One farmer in the village began his operation ten years back by collecting crickets in the wild to place in captivity. Since then, he has expanded his farm and now earns about $2,000 USD a month through the sale of crickets. Cricket farming in this drought-prone area is ideal, as crickets require relatively little water compared to other livestock. One of the major advantages mentioned by farmers was that the operation does not take up a great deal of time, often only 30 minutes to 1 hour a day to maintain the cages. Farmers also like that they can stay at home to work, and one older man stated that it was a suitable activity for elderly persons such as himself. Initially these farmers had difficulty accessing markets to sell their crickets, however things have changed and there are now several buyers who regularly come to the village to purchase the insects.
Inside one of the farms. This building was half of one man’s operation. Originally used for pigs, it was converted to cricket cages a few years ago.
Various villages in the area have taken up cricket farming, with some establishing cooperatives that include cold storage facilities. Ban San Tor had formerly established a cooperative, but found that co-op activities sometimes took more time than the farming itself. Although they are not officially part of a cooperative, this community works together by exchanging not only knowledge, but also their cricket eggs to prevent inbreeding. All farmers sell their crickets to buyers for the same price, and the average income for a farmer will be about 565 USD/month, above average for Thailand and a respectable amount to live off of considering the cost of living. However, feeding the crickets continues to be an expensive endeavor, with almost all of the production costs coming from the purchase of commercial cricket feed. A less costly alternative has the potential to greatly improve the profit margins for these farmers.
Looking to the future, these farmers believe cricket farming will continue to develop in Thailand if the government maintains their support of farming activities. They are currently providing assistance to those starting up cricket farms, supporting producer cooperatives, and sending food safety inspectors to farms. As these Thai farmers continue to expand their production, some hope to export processed cricket products to other countries. Western countries are becoming increasingly curious when it comes to eating insects, giving these farmers a potential opportunity to expand distribution. But to make this easier, they first need some help from the government in establishing food safety regulations.
It was truly impressive to see a whole village involved in cricket farming. The future looks bright for these entrepreneurs, especially if the industry continues to receive government support. We’re left wondering whether a similar model would be acceptable or possible in Laos, and whether or not we should move towards supporting larger scale production. But for now, we’ll continue to evaluate the potential of small-scale cricket farms here in Laos.