Canopy dwelling weaver ants are widely distributed throughout the Old World Tropics where they build up high densities on their host trees. If managed properly the high number of ants will control a range of pest insects and benefit crop production. Simultaneously the ant larvae production, fuelled by the consumed pest insects, can be harvested and utilised for nutrition as they are tasty and high in proteins, vitamins and minerals. Thus, plantations may function as ant farms and in addition to plant production also hosts the production of edible animal protein. In this setup harmful pest insects are turned into a valuable and needed source of protein. Protein from conventional livestock production leave a high pressure on the environment as the food and farm area needed to produce each protein unit is high. For insect production these requirements are much lower and FAO has recently proposed research in insect farming as a way forward to solve an increasing future demand for protein. Weaver ant farming may build on natural food collected by the ants or alternatively be boosted by feeding the ant colonies actively with protein and sugar. In both cases, when ant biocontrol is combined with ant farming, the environmental cost of protein production may fall even lower than for other insects as the ants feed on pests that would otherwise reduce the plant yield and since the farming area is simultaneously in use for plant production. In this presentation I provide data showing (i) how the harvest of ants can be sustainable combined with their use in biocontrol, (ii) estimates of ant harvest yields from a mango plantation and (iii) how active feeding of ants may generate economic returns between 1.52 and 4.56 in a Thai market.
Global Conference on Entomology. 5-9 March Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2011