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Many societies have and continue to practice entomophagy, and many environmental activists promote the consumption of insects as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional meat. It is relatively cheap to raise insects on an industrial scale with modern technology, but would it be feasible for people at a much lower level of technology?

Preconditions:

The primary reason they raise insects is that most of the large animals are dangerous to consume due to a neurotoxin that is accumulated in their flesh.

Tech Level: Think Iron Age Sub-Saharan Africa. So medieval Africa not medieval Europe. This means you’ve got iron tools, some kingdoms and a severe lack of good beasts of burden. They use hoe farming rather than the plow

Climate: Tropical Rainforest transitioning to Savannah. Think African Great Lakes Region

Other sources of food: They grow several kinds of tubers and fruit trees, along with fishing and hunting a very select few species.

My ideas for how they farm the insects:

  1. Piles of rotting wood to raise grubs and termites

  2. Slaughter some of the toxic animals to feed to carrion beetles and flies (Maybe to get the bones or something)

So would it be feasible for a preindustrial society in a tropical climate to farm insects?

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    $\begingroup$ Trivally yes. The Chinese had silk as long ago as 4000 BCE (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_silk ). I'm not sure when the process transitioned from collecting wild coccoons to farming the silkworms, but it surely predates modern industrial society by several thousand years. Honey bees have likewise been domesticated since ancient Egypt. So yes, insect farming is viable, at least for some purposes. I will leave it to someone more expert to explain whether or not they could be farmed for (subsistence) food. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 22, 2020 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Thanks, I was aware of honey bees and silkworms, I’m asking about farming for consumption, but still thanks $\endgroup$
    – user71781
    Jan 22, 2020 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ If the bugs eat the toxic animals, will this not also make the bugs toxic to humans? $\endgroup$
    – mattrea6
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @mattrea6 It might depend on how they metabolize it $\endgroup$
    – user71781
    Jan 22, 2020 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium - er, they did eat silkworms as well, fried I think. Whisper has it they're tasty, but I wouldn't know. Granted this was a side effect of keeping the insects for silk production, but both purposes probably became as intertwined in history as keeping sheep for wool and meat. And I know some peoples ate bee larvae for the protein, sometimes flavored with their own honey, though again the, um, harvests would have to be managed to keep hives as a whole going. $\endgroup$
    – Megha
    Jan 29, 2020 at 2:01

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Absolutely, Insect farms exist for protein and they are very low-tech, I'd suggest grasshoppers or crickets would be a good candidate.

A pile of reed matting kept suitably moist would be a great home, and dinner, for grasshoppers.

In order to breed the same species all year round, you will need very large indoor (or underground) spaces, a cave complex, or a large hall would be a good idea. you'd have lots of piles of matting all in a rotation of different stages of the breeding cycle. And probably some artificially flooded reed-beds to provide the raw materials; so caves near a river would be a perfect spot.

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No, even with modern technology insects farming for consumption is a bad idea.

High population density makes farmed insects extremely prone to parasites and disease. An EU study on insect farming showed 80% of insects tested from farms were harboring parasites, around a third of them were parasites known to be dangerous to humans https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6613697/. So no only do you to worry about your farm being destroyed by parasites you also have to worry about people getting sick and that's with modern technology. with preindustrial technology, people will start dying left an right, neurotoxin might be a kindness by comparison. managing parasite risk is a huge part of modern farming a lot of farming law is built around minimizing parasite risk is far less parasite prone large animal farms.

then you have problems of scale, it is fairly easy to to restrain a cow or goat, much harder to contain and protect a million insects, especially if you have to move.

honestly neurotoxin does not work well as a deterrent since neurochemistry is fairly conservative across vertebrates, if the wild predators can eat it so can humans, also keep in mind humans started eating meat long before we became humans, even chimps eat meat. If hominids could not eat meat there would be no humans. but if you are set on it consider fish farming instead, that's fairly common.

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  • $\begingroup$ Herd sickness is a much bigger problem in the industrial age. Pre-industrial societies maintain many smaller populations at lower densities than industrial farmers reducing the risk of diseases and parasites to begin with. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 30, 2022 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Also, there is the question of preparation. Highly toxic foods like Eel and Cassava are very dangerous to eat if not properly prepared, but still considered staple foods in there respective regions. Properly cooking your insects will kill the parasites; so, if insects are your most viable protein source, the locals will learn how to prepare it properly. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki less tech makes the risks even higher, since they don't understand how to combat parasites. Any density high enough to make a significant impact on the human diet is too high. Also toxic is different than parasites, many parasite eggs survive cooking which is why the FDA pushes so hard for parasite safety. and cooking does nothing to prevent parasite induced population crashes. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 30, 2022 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki modern non-insect factory farms are higher risk because of high population density, densities much much smaller than even small scale insect farming if it is meant to be the protein source for humans. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 30, 2022 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ You develop the sanitation methods to match the meat. While beef is normally considered sanitary once heated to 145°F (63°C), Toxoplasmosis in pork is killed by heating the meat to 160°F (71°C). Insect meat is typically sanitized either through a long slow cooking process that raises the internal temperature to nearly 200°F(93°C), or it is cooked in spices like cayenne pepper that kill the parasites . $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 30, 2022 at 20:22
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This is already a thing in our world

I know people from a rural part of Honduras where it is common to raise insects as food. The area they are from is still pre-industrial with most people living on family farms, working the land with hand tools, and making most of thier own stuff from local resources. Honduras is also a tropical country... so the only thing that is really different from your setting is that Honduras also has other kinds of edible fauna, but that hardly impacts the outcome of the question.

Also, neurotoxins will not keep people from eating the other animals too

Eel blood is full of a deadly neurotoxin that is destroyed by cooking. Puffer fish and various snakes have very deadly venoms, but are still eaten when carefully prepared such that the venom does not contaminate the meat. Cassava is rich in cyanide which is processed by soaking and fermenting it for a week before it can be processed into an edible flour. Greenland shark meat has toxic levels of urea which requires the meat to be cured and fermented for 4-5 months before it is edible. These are all forms of meat people figured out how to eat safely using pre-industrial technology.

Insects and other arthropods also fall into the realm of "less than safe" kinds of food because of the high prevalence of parasites, but various preparation methods like cooking to very high internal temperatures and boiling with parasite killing spices have also made these animals safe for consumption using methods that predate industrialization.

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