Canadian Government Investing $8.5 Million in Cricket-Protein Company

Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-Food department has awarded an investment of up to $8.5 million to a company—originally founded thanks to the Clinton Global Initiative’s $1 million Hult Prize—that’s set to produce 29 million pounds of protein from crickets per year.

Francis Drouin, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced at the end of June of this year an investment of “up to $8.5 million” into the “advanced insect agriculture” company Aspire in order “to support the building of a commercial facility to produce cricket protein.” The investment will go specifically toward the continued construction and operation of Aspire’s cricket-protein plant in London, Ontario, which is expected to house four billion crickets and, once at capacity, produce nearly 29 million pounds of cricket protein per year.

“Alternative sources of protein such as insects provide an opportunity for Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector to more sustainably meet global demand for food,” Drouin wrote in the investment announcement. “Aspire’s goal to tackle global food scarcity led to its focus on edible insect production, which can provide high volumes of nutritious food with a low environmental footprint.”

Drouin, on behalf of the Canadian government’s Agriculture and Agri-Food department, adds that “Aspire will use the latest smart technology to create the ideal growing conditions for crickets at its facility in London, Ontario” and that “This investment will allow the company to monitor and grow billions of crickets at a time, producing a nutrient-rich protein for premium health food and pet markets.”

On July 1 of this year CBC News reported that “the first farmed insects” at the massive new processing plant were expected to come in within the next few days—meaning, by the time of this writing, the facility is already up and running. CBC also reported the plant currently employs 45 people, but hopes to hire 55 more within the next year.

“Our planet is rapidly growing in both population and appetite, while at the same time our planet continues to shrink in resources with which to produce food,” Aspire CEO and Co-Founder Mohammed Ashour says in the video immediately above. In response, he says that he and others at Aspire “identified that crickets are a formidable source of protein that is well positioned to address many of the challenges facing our future.”

Ashour emphasizes the fact that crickets are “perfectly suited to indoor, climate-controlled agriculture,” which allows Aspire to “take advantage of robotics, IoT [internet of things] technology, and full automation to be able to produce protein in an enclosed environment that is drought resistant and that can take place and be applied in virtually any geography around the world.”

Indeed, it seems advanced technology is the centerpiece of Aspire’s sales pitch: later in the same video Ashour is joined by Sheldon Fernandez, CEO of DarwinAI: a “visual quality inspection company providing manufacturers an end-to-end solution to improve product quality and increase production efficiency.” As Ashour notes in the video, with the help of DarwinAI, Aspire will be able to track 27 million data points every single day “on virtually every aspect of the life of [the] crickets,” including things like temperature, humidity, light intensity, sound pressure, etc. All with the goal of “maximizing cricket yield.”

Establishment of the giant cricket-protein plant in Canada comes roughly nine years after Ashour founded Aspire in 2013. The CEO, who was pursuing a degree in medicine as well as an MBA at McGill University in Montreal at the time, discovered the Hult Prize: an annual, year-long competition that crowd-sources ideas from university level students after challenging them to solve a pressing social issue around topics such as food security, water access, energy, and education.

The Hult Prize—which is done in partnership between the Hult International Business School and the Clinton Global Initiative and handed out each September by Bill Clinton himself—focused on “the Global Food Crisis” in 2013; a topic personally chosen by Clinton himself. Thanks to the prize, Aspire was awarded $1 million in funding.

While Ashour touts Aspire’s mission to solve “the problem of food insecurity” around the globe, the plant in Canada is an interesting way to start the mission. As CBC News reported, “Most of what the plant in London will produce will feed the pet-food market.” Ashour told CBC this is because “every single meal of every single day consists of about 30 per cent meat” for pets.

By contrast, The Huffington Post reported in 2013 that “By growing, processing, and selling edible insects, Aspire Food Group empowers urban slum communities, offering them better access to an efficient, sustainable source of protein and nutrients.”

Certainly it’s difficult to see how creating cricket protein-rich pet food leads to a better life for people in urban slums—especially considering the issue was identified by the Hult Prize nine years ago; i.e. quite a bit of time for starving people to wait for a product.

Feature image: Aspire Food Group

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