Sylvain Hugel is one of the world’s foremost experts on crickets of the Indian Ocean Islands. So when he received an email from a fellow entomologist in March 2017 asking for help identifying a species in Madagascar that could be farmed for humans to consume, he thought it was a joke. “I’m working to protect those insects, not eat them,” the French academic responded tartly.
But the emails from Brian Fisher, an ant specialist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, kept coming. Fisher had been doing fieldwork in Madagascar when he realized that the forests where both he and Hugel conducted much of their research were disappearing. Nearly 80% of Madagascar’s forest coverage has been destroyed since the 1950s, and 1-2% of what remains is cut down each year as farmers clear more trees to make room for livestock. The only way to prevent this, Fisher told Hugel in his emails, was to give locals an alternative source of protein. “If you want to be able to keep studying your insects, we need to increase food security, otherwise there will be no forest left,” Fisher wrote.