Photo/IllutrationGryllus bimaculatus crickets (Ryuta Kameoka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

TOKUSHIMA--Tokushima University is set to launch an ambitious project to mass-produce crickets in anticipation of predicted global food shortages after raising the required research money through crowdfunding.

The university’s research team raised funds online from the public for the initiative named “The project to use Gryllus bimaculatus crickets for food.”

With a mission statement of “Let’s start a big movement from Japan where there is a tradition of eating insects such as locusts,” the team started collecting donations on April 4, and reached its target of 500,000 yen ($4,540) before the deadline, which was set for the end of May.

Taro Mito, an associate professor of developmental biology at the university, who leads the team, said, “We can finally take a step toward popularizing insect-eating.”

According to a United Nations white paper, the global population is estimated to top 9 billion in 2050. In 2013, a U.N. agency recommended that people all over the world should offset food scarcity by eating insects.

As processed food made with crickets is already sold in the United States, Mito, 44, and other team members focused on the healthy nutrients of Gryllus bimaculatus--high in protein and low in calories--that are kept for research purposes.

Gryllus bimaculatus is characterized by two spots on its back, and it can be found in Okinawa Prefecture and other areas.

It measures about 3 centimeters in length, larger than other crickets, and can breed throughout the year, according to the research team.

Mito’s team planned to make a device equipped with a system to automatically provide the water needed to raise a few thousand crickets for food.

However, as research on insect-eating remains little known in Japan, the team had hit a wall in trying to procure the funds it required to build a prototype of the device.

But it overcame the difficulties because the university launched an academic crowdfunding drive.

Although the team has reached the goal of collecting 500,000 yen, it is continuing to seek additional donations. As of May 28, more than 580,000 yen had been donated by 70 people.

Donors will receive special gifts corresponding to the amount they give. For a donation of 3,000 yen, benefactors receive a set containing powdered crickets, a recipe and the electronic version of a research diary on Gryllus bimaculatus.

A 5,000 yen donation yields the aforementioned set as well as a T-shirt featuring a picture of the cricket’s face.

Those who dig deep to give 10,000 yen get tickets to participate in a Gryllus bimaculatus tasting event and to go to a science cafe.

In April, the research team tested dishes using powdered crickets. Feedback included comments such as “The ‘tonkatsu’ (fried pork cutlets) are aromatic” and “The ’takoyaki’ (fried octopus dumpling) taste more delicious than when they are eaten with ‘katsuobushi’ (dried bonito flakes).” One person said fried crickets “would be a good match for sake.”

Mito said the overwhelming support for the team’s crowdfunding effort demonstrated the high interest among the public in securing sufficient quantities of food in the future.

“I thought many people would reject (the idea of eating crickets) because of their appearance, but there were an unexpectedly high number of responses to crowdfunding,” Mito said.

“I feel the public has a high level of interest in food problems.”

The research team plans to complete a prototype device for mass-rearing crickets as early as this autumn.

The team envisions putting the device into practical use and developing processed food for distribution in markets in the future.