The Teruel town of Cuevas de Almudén is going to inaugurate an unprecedented productive activity in Aragon: an insect farm. It is about the company Just Bugs SL, dedicated to the breeding of ‘Tenebrio molitor’, popularly known as ‘mealworm’, a beetle rich in protein and low in fat, with which flours are manufactured for animal feed and, from now on, also for human consumption.
Just Bugs is the project of three residents of this town in the Comarca de Cuencas Mineras, who have wanted to start from the rural environment and create wealth in the place where they live.
Initially, Just Bugs was going to be a cricket farm. But the change in the regulations, after the ‘Tenebrio molitor’ was approved for human consumption by the European Food Safety Authority in January 2021, being the first time that this happened with an insect, has led to change the plans by José Luis Gresa, Ignacio Villarroya and Alberto Fandos, three young people between 35 and 40 years old, who have seen an opportunity to expand the market to which their production can be directed.
In the animal field, the flour from ‘Tenebrio molitor’ is used “above all as feed in fish farms, but also as pet food,” pointed out Gresa, who has emphasized the authorization as a food product for human consumption. Its high protein content means that it is used as an ingredient, for example, “in energy bars or in products for low-calorie diets,” Gresa has expressed.
The idea of creating an insect farm came from Ignacio Villarroya, after his experience as an Erasmus student in Denmark. There, he carried out research and practices in food preparations based on crustaceans. To replicate the idea, “we are looking for a species that could be produced in our territory,” Gresa clarified.
7,000 kilos a year
At this time, Just Bugs already has the necessary authorizations and is going to start building the facilities, “a precast cement warehouse that we hope to have by September-October,” explained Gresa.
The company will have a camera “to reproduce the natural habitat of the worms”, which will also maintain conditions of “adequate temperature, humidity and air quality to accelerate their growth rate”, the promoter pointed out. The natural cycle of the ‘Tenebrio molitor’ is 40 days in its larval phase, which is the moment when it is most useful since, afterwards, it “loses proteins and gains fat”.
The estimated production is 7,000 kilos a year, Gresa specified, although it is not expected to reach that rate for another five years “since we will have to start creating the colony from the first worms that, at the beginning, we will dedicate mainly to reproduction”. However, Just Bugs plans to “cover expenses from the beginning with the first sales.”
The product will be supplied in two ways: in the form of flour or unprocessed, in batches of frozen worms for transport.
At the beginning, the company will create a job, for which a person will be hired. The three founding partners will combine their current jobs with attention to business. The necessary investment has been 200,000 euros, for which the three founders have received a 50% subsidy from the Office of the Leader Group for Rural Development of Mineral Basins. For the rest, the promoters have requested external financing.
Gresa has regretted the obstacles encountered by an entrepreneur who wants to start an economic activity in rural areas. Just Bugs has encountered special difficulties due to its raw material: “The Administration was unaware of this product and did not know where to classify it for permits or aid,” he specified.
“The procedures to undertake should be more agile”, has claimed this new businessman, who has experienced difficulties “even for a small project like ours.” He added that support for this type of initiative is crucial to “keep peoples alive and fight depopulation.” In his view, what would be needed in each town are ten projects like this one, “which create one or two jobs, but activate the local economy and generate a productive fabric.”
Cuevas de Almudén is a town of 140 inhabitants that, like all the municipalities of Cuencas Mineras, based a good part of its prosperous economy on the extractive industry. The disappearance of this activity has been supplemented by renewable energies, through a wind farm and another photovoltaic, which are the labor support of the town, along with the traditional rainfed agriculture and work in the industrial estates of Utrillas, Listen and other nearby nuclei.