Farmers hop on to growing world trend
Cricket harvesting worth B1bn a year as state pushes northeasterners to diversify
The fried crickets you buy from a roadside vendor are part of a thriving farming industry raising and exporting crickets now worth 1 billion baht a year.
Village head Tueang Yarum, 45, is one of many farmers in the Northeast turning to raising crickets for sale as the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives encourages farmers to diversify.
Ms Tueang is among 50 villagers in Ban Makha Tai, tambon Ban Yang of Muang district in this lower northeastern province, being helped by the Buri Ram Provincial Agricultural Office and the Department of Agricultural Extension of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to raise crickets.
She said the agencies had given an initial 100,000 baht to support villagers and wanted the village to become a nodel for cricket farming.
"Cricket products are a form of local food and they are getting more popular. From one crop which takes 1.5-2 months to raise, we can produce and harvest about 80-100 kilogrammes of fresh crickets,'' Ms Tueang said.
Agricultural agencies launched the project to help villagers make some extra money. She said the project has been going for three years and has given farmers the hoped-for income boost.
Other farmers in the village who have turned to raising crickets, such as Khan Juanram, 49, Eye Youyot, 57, and Noi Thinaram, 52, say they back the project, as it has helped give them greater income security.
They said they want to extend their farms because demand in local village markets and nearby fresh markets outstrips supply.
"I like to feed the crickets. Sometimes we feed them pumpkins which improves their flavour," said Ms Khan, who normally helps the village headwoman raise and harvest crickets from her farm.
Meanwhile, Ms Eye and Ms Noi say the crickets can fall prey to humid weather, as they prefer it hot and dry, and can perish if conditions get too wet.
They said the crickets raised in their village have not been sent to Bangkok. Those insects which are sold in the capital, often by roadside vendors who have fried them up for customers to have as snacks with drinks, could come from other areas in the Northeast.
On the production side, farmers have formed a business unit to sell the insects to customers. They are also developing an online marketing platform to help them expand further.
"Before we harvest them, we have to feed them with pumpkins first, so they will taste better,'' she said.
The cricket farms are promoted in Isaan and the northeastern region by the Office of Agricultural Economics (OAE) which is pushing farmers to enter e-commerce and marketing as well as creating a market for new protein sources.
Officials took part in a conference titled, "The food industry in the future: the future of the Northeast", held in in Khon Kaen province recently.
The northeastern crickets-to-food industry was discussed at the event, attended by the Federation of Thai Industries, Khon Kaen University, Maha Sarakham University, the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards and Department of Livestock.
Officials from the Department of Agriculture and Cooperatives said staff were keen for farmers to raise the standard of cricket farms to create more confidence in the production process among consumers.
Thai cricket exports are popular in foreign markets where demand is growing by 23% a year, especially the United States, the European Union, Japan and China.
In addition, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is also encouraging people to consume crickets because they are a good source of cheap protein. The crickets can be produced or processed in a variety of fresh, fried, frozen and crispy formats to suit customers' tastes.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives hopes to expand cricket production in the Northeast.
Farmers have pooled resources to raise three types of crickets. The popular strains include thongkham (golden), thongdaeng (copper) and the thonglai or sading bullfrog species. They are raised mainly in Khon Kaen, Kalasin, Nakhon Phanom, Buri Ram and Maha Sarakham provinces.
In 2018, there were more than 20,000 cricket farms nationwide with a production capacity of over 700 tonnes a year, worth over 1 billion baht a year, according to the ministry.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, farmers have an average investment cost of 41 baht/kilogramme. It takes 45-50 days to feed one crop, and farmers can harvest six crops a year, selling them for 80 baht/kg. They make an average profit of about 163,464 baht/year.
The OAE has integrated the promotion of crickets in line with the "Agricultural Products, Commercial, Marketing" approach of the agriculture ministry which is in turn keen to develop insect-based agriculture in the Northeast region.
Crickets can also be used as animal feed, and will help boost Thai agro exports as part of the government's push to promote Thailand as the world's kitchen.