Interview with Mr. Yuvanesh and Mr. Raavee, Directors of Asia Insect Farm Solutions (AIFS)
Tell us about AIFS project
Last year, we had the opportunity of meeting the founders of Nordic Insect Economy. After our discussions, we were convinced that edible insects are going to be the most sustainable solution to meet the rising global demand for meat and protein. Over the next few months, we spoke to industry experts and read plenty of research papers. We also worked with experts in the field of Artificial Intelligence to understand how we could incorporate automation and machine learning into our processes so as to reduce operating costs and boost productivity. Once we were confident of what we had, we started AIFS.
What products are you marketing at the moment?
At the moment, we are only marketing the production of crickets. There are a number of reasons for this. Crickets are more nutritionally balanced than other protein sources. On average, they contain about 65% protein by volume and all the essential amino acids that humans need. The amount of iron they contain is also more than what we get from spinach. Crickets also produce close to zero greenhouse gases and require just a tiny fraction of the feed, water and space that pigs, chickens and cows do in order to produce the same amount of protein.
Are you interested in European market?
Most definitely. Presently, our focus is to develop cricket farms across the South East Asia region. The environmental conditions here are optimal for crickets to grow well. So our priority over the next few years will be to establish a strong presence and branding in this region. But we do expect most of what we produce will be exported to Europe. In 2015, the European Commission adopted a new regulation reviewing the legislation on ‘novel foods’. Under this legislation, businesses can get their insect-based products authorised under the European Food Safety Authority. Once this is done, insect-based products are going to be found in big retail supermarkets as well as family-run businesses such as restaurants, bakeries and pizzerias.
Tell us about your partnership with Nordic Insect Economy
Nordic Insect Economy is our technology partner. We have been collaborating closely with them to set up our cricket farms. We see them as one of the current market leaders who will establish insect-based foods as a major source of protein in Europe and the rest of the world. They also provide us with immediate access to the local channels in Europe who we can collaborate and do business with. So, with their technology and support, we believe that AIFS will be able to achieve its goal of developing cricket farms across the South East Asia region.
Is the market growing fast enough in relation to your expectations?
We read recently that the edible insect industry in America is already worth about US$ 20 million and growing. Numbers coming out from South Korea value the industry there at US$ 5 million. Imagine that just a few years ago, people were rearing crickets as just fishing bait or animal feed. Now we are talking about producing crickets industrial scale as sustainable alternatives to traditional protein sources such as chicken, pork or beef. We now even have trade organisations for companies in the region to come together and promote the industry and engage with regulators on matters of food safety and nutrition. So, to answer your question. Yes, the edible insect market has already achieved significant milestones and is continuing to grow at a very fast rate.
But we need to ensure that the market keeps growing. One challenge faced by the edible insect industry is the uncertainty in regulations governing insect-based foods. For instance, although the new legislation in Europe allows insect-based foods to be authorised, there is still no stable regulatory framework or appropriate transitional measures to facilitate producers of insect-based foods to implement this legislation. The Food and Drug Administration in U.S. also has yet to be convinced to add insect-based products to their database of “Generally Recognized as Safe” foods. Without these, the growth of our industry can be potentially stifled. And this may delay businesses getting their insect-based foods into stores and restaurants. But we are optimistic that these will change soon.