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Natural engineering with insects


17 October 2022

Do you ever feel like you are missing something? Just because you see the world at your own eye level. From your own biotope, or bubble. The street you live in, your sports club and, of course, your social media. For me, that is the time to break loose and start zooming. Zooming out and looking holistically is natural in my role at Foodvalley. However, zooming in on the detail teaches me surprising things: natural engineering!

In this blog I will address our second innovation field: Circular Agrifood. It is about shortening supply lines, more economical use of raw materials and no waste. In short, the fascinating journey of this focus area; to refind the balance in the way we produce and consume our food. And zooming in, insects are an insane source of inspiration to tackle the huge challenge of food waste.

Circular Agrifood: the power of natural solutions…

The Netherlands is known for its engineers. And they are renowned for solving that other big issue: global warming and impending rising water. For Circular Agrifood, we also need engineers. But not those from a technical university. We need the practically trained, on and under our soil: the insects.

So, lets zoom in for a moment. Squat down, through your knees, take a shovel and grab a clod of soil. All bugs… And what are they doing there? They loosen the earth, make corridors, eat leftover material, turn it into fertile food for others. You see it happening before your eyes, fascinating. Upcycling in its purest form! 

Therefore -working in the field of Circular Agrifood- we are also so fascinated by those trillions of little mini engineers. They were here long before we -humans- arrived. They had mined the field, literally and figuratively without producing waste and with short supply lines. We can learn so much from them!

Insects and practical solutions for healthy sustainable food…

For us, upcycling is to reuse food waste as much as possible. Not just the food we throw away, but also the waste flows from potato peelings or coffee grounds. Many of these leftovers can still be very well reused for humans and animals. And if that no longer works, we have our own ecosystem engineers: the insects! Because apart from being rich in healthy proteins, they provide healthy soil. Look at this great website from Ask Nature (Biomimicry Institute) and search for insects. Saskia van den Muijsenberg of BiomimicryNL will show some of these amazing wonders of nature for food innovation.

And of course, they are full of proteins. For more inspiration on developing the insects for the food sector, I would like to refer you to our partners NGN. They are a frontrunner and working as a social enterprise in the Netherlands and African countries. Their goal is to reach an economy that “works for everyone”- one which is circular and environmental conscious, inclusive and free of poverty. Developing Insects farms is an important way of contributing.

These and other examples are reflected in the insect scan developed from our engagement in Enterprise Singapore. A great example of the core of what we do at Foodvalley: Preparing the groundwork for a major innovation of which we don’t yet know how to apply in our daily meals. Our preliminary work consists of bringing people and knowledge together – cross border and from an independent role. In doing so, we build an infrastructure on which a lot of entrepreneurs, retailers and researchers can move forward: Making new products, finding markets, organising chains more intelligently.

…And for the way we pave the road for gamechangers

Thus, at Foodvalley we are a little bit like insects. We are ecosystem engineers as well. We pave the way for gamechangers. Build fertile ground for new initiatives. Establish new connections. The business of details – zooming in- is equally important to framing the bigger picture.

Zooming in requires attention, time, curiosity, a deep willingness to understand. I often find it hard in my daily work when my calendar dictates my life. That is why I regularly retreat into nature. For a walk, a long weekend, or like this summer in Slovenia. Engage all my senses, make space for detail, for observation, amazement. And then suddenly – I see the bigger picture again in coherence of all details.

Often simpler, more logical, and more fitting that the frantic attempts we made earlier based on abstract theoretical models. And most importantly, I see the first steps. Is that not strange, just by zooming in!

Thus, zooming result in first steps, and without a first step there is no journey… What will be your first step to zoom in? I can always recommend a retreat into nature. And then, when you come home refreshed, look in the insect scan at the wonderful world and innovation potential of insects.

Next time I will be talking about another fascinating journey – the journey of personal nutrition.


By the way, when you are interested in those little insects…and how they are part of the food transition, check in on the 24th of November, for the workshop at our offices in Wageningen’.

Marjolein Brasz