When arriving on Mr Sawart Jaimettaâ€™s farm in northeast Thailand, the first thing I notice are the many tools and parts of equipment that lay around the yard. Mr Sawart likes to fix most things himself and does not like to throw away things; one never knows when something will come in handy.
Various one-meter high speakers stand next to his house and Mr Sawart is busy unloading sound equipment from his pick-up truck. The night before he had played DJ at a local party. Close to the speakers, my eyes fall on some unfamiliar looking, plywood boxes that are neatly closed with blue mosquito screen. We soon learn that Mr Sawart and his sister are rearing crickets to sell as food at the market. They have 12 boxes in three different places around the farm house. Space is a commodity many farmers manage well.
Cricket farming in Thailand started in 1998 (Hanboonsong et al, 2013). The technology was developed by entomologists at Khon Kaen University and then disseminated to farmers across the northeast. Currently about 20,000 farmers produce 7,500 tonnes of crickets per year, meaning each farmer rears on average 375 kilograms of crickets per year or about one kilogram per day. Mr Sawart sells his crickets at 120 Baht (2.70 Euro) per kilogram. From egg to adult takes about 40 days, so rearing crickets gives him a quick turn over.
Many farmers in Thailand initially reared local field crickets, but then shifted to the domestic cricket Acheta domesticus imported from Europe and the USA. The knowledge farmers had gained on rearing local crickets could be applied to the new species. As in selecting crop varieties, a main reason for farmers to shift to another variety is taste. In this case, Thai consumers preferred the delightfully crunchy domestic cricket more than the local species.
Not even insects are safe from pests. The 1.2 x 2.4 x 0.6 meter plywood boxes are raised from the floor by four short wooden legs. Mr Sawart protects the wooden legs from rotting by putting them in plastic bottles cut in half. By placing the legs in small basins of water, ants are no longer able to crawl up the wooden legs and eat the crickets. Creative solutions for day to day problems.
As the crickets like to live in hollow, dark spaces, cardboard egg trays are placed one next to the other on the bottom of the cricket rearing boxes. Different colourful, plastic trays are placed on them. The ones filled with coconut fibre are used for egg-laying. Other trays contain concentrate feed for the early stages. Drinking trays have pebbles, so the insect will not drown in them. Mr Sawart gives banana stems to the adults.
Like many innovative farmers, Mr Sawart is eager to learn about new technologies and has found a way to fit it in with his other farming enterprises. While he earns his living mainly from cassava and rice, he likes rearing crickets, because it requires little labour and gives quick cash.
Hanboonsong, Y., Jamjanya, T. & Durst, P.B. 2013. Six-legged livestock: edible insect farming, collection and marketing in Thailand. FAO, Rome, 57 pp. Download manual.
For more news and information on edible insects, visit the FAO website Insects for Food and Feed.