PARIS-Will locusts feed the world? The voracious flying insect, capable of swarming in millions and stripping fields of crops, has long been associated with hunger.

But if a major conference gathering food experts and entomologists is right, captive locusts - and many other protein-rich insects - will be heading to a menu near you just a few years from now. ‘There are 2,000 sorts of insects that can be eaten. Insects are an enormous opportunity and a huge market,’ said Arnold van Huis, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where the four-day ‘Insects to Feed the World Conference’ began on Wednesday.

More than 450 researchers and delegates from international groups, including the European Union (EU), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), are taking part. The conference will also gather a constellation of private entrepreneurs - pioneers who believe that rearing and processing insects for food is the buzz of the future.

The FAO in May last year gave its official blessing to insect-eating, declaring it to be not only a time-honoured source of vitamins and amino acids but also an environmental boon. Grasshoppers, yellow mealworms, ants, mopane caterpillars and many other species provide a low-cost and safe way to feed the hungry millions on a planet facing environmental stress and an exploding population, it judged.

The agency estimates that the world needs to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050 in order to serve a global population of nine billion. Animal feed production is increasingly competing for resources - land, water and fertilizer - with human food and fuel production, cities and conservation of nature. Already, 70 percent of the world’s agricultural land is already directly or indirectly dedicated to meat production.