McGill students win $1-million prize for idea of using insects to battle hunger

From the beetle larvae consumed by African tribesmen to the fried grasshoppers sold by street vendors in Thailand, insects have always been a regular part of the human diet. Today, over two billion people worldwide regularly eat insects, according to a recent report from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. And as populations swell in the developing world, insects could well become the key to global food security.

Now a team of MBA students from McGill University has won a $1-million dollar prize for trying to advance this idea. The Hult Prize, handed out Monday by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, is the culmination of a year long social-entrepreneurship competition involving thousands of students.

The McGill team, consisting of Mohammed Ashour, Gabe Mott, Jesse Pearlstein, Shobhita Soor and Zev Thompson – won for their plan to produce and promote insect farming for food consumption in urban slums. The Globe and Mail caught up with Mr. Mott in New York, after the he and his teammates claimed their prize at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

How did you come up with this idea?

We had been working on trying to come up with an answer for food insecurity in global slums, but we only had good ideas. To be competitive at the Hult Prize against other top business schools we knew we needed something revolutionary. We decided to split up, crowd-source ideas from our friends and try to come back with something crazy enough to work. Our team captain, Mohammed Ashour, came back with an idea from a friend in medicine. Insects. Once we did some preliminary research we knew we had our idea.

How significant could insects be as a food source?

Insects (or micro-livestock) are already a significant food source and they often have superior nutritional profiles to conventional livestock. The real issue is that they are seasonal, which means they are only available for a few months (or less) a year. Even if they were available year round, they are hand harvested, a labour intensive process which significantly inflates their cost.

What will you do with the prize money?

It will allow us to implement our business model rapidly, to get insects to the people who demand them, and do so year-round. The grasshopper season in Mexico is coming to a close, so it is imperative that we immediately harvest large numbers to begin our breeding colonies. We’ll also continue to do research on the most demanded species of micro-livestock so we can further our goal of helping people acquire the traditional foods they desire, at a price and frequency that will significantly improve their nutrition.

Read full article here