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?


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 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Thanks, I was aware of honey bees and silkworms, I’m asking about farming for consumption, but still thanks $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 22 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 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @mattrea6 It might depend on how they metabolize it $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 22 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 at 2:01

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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