Lack of access to affordable protein sources for farmed pigs, chickens and fish in Kenya can deter women and youth farmers from starting a small livestock venture, with both groups less likely to have access to the required capital. Yet, their involvement in agriculture is widely recognised as critical to Kenya’s economic development.
Traditionally, Kenyan farmers use fishmeal and soybean as protein sources for their animals, but both can be problematic for smallholder communities. Kenya does not produce high quantities of soybean, and limited local supply translates to expensive import taxes, which often push the commodity out of the reach of small-scale operations. Likewise, fishmeal is becoming a less reliable protein source due to greater market competition, overfishing and traders often adulterating supplies with sand to increase profit margins.
Two production models show insects could provide a reliable, sustainable, safe, and cost-effective source of protein for small-scale livestock and fish farming enterprises.
The development of the models has stemmed from the Insect feed for poultry, fish and pig production in sub-Saharan Africa (INSFEED) project, one of nine projects under Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund, a joint initiative of ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
Black soldier flies provide the opportunity for smallholder farmers to shift towards a more reliable, profitable and ultimately more sustainable source of protein for their animals.
Black soldier flies as fresh livestock feed
When Ms Roseanne Mwangi first started her pig venture in Makuyu, Kenya, she relied on locally made fishmeal and soybean feeds but quickly realised the cost far outweighed potential returns.
While attending a conference in 2018, Ms Mwangi visited a research farm in Uganda where she learnt how to derive chicken feed from housefly larvae feeding on pig manure. Further research led her to farm black soldier flies, and she approached the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the INSFEED project implementer, for more information.
Black soldier flies are renowned as being one of the most efficient waste recyclers of the insect world. Unlike common houseflies, black soldier flies don’t have mouths and are incapable of transmitting deadly diseases, posing minimal risk to human or animal health.
Adult black soldier flies have one goal—to lay eggs. The resulting larvae can devour a wide range of food scraps and waste materials, quickly converting leftovers into protein. From hatching, black soldier fly larvae only take 10-14 days to grow fully. At this adult stage, the larvae are fed to animals, providing a protein-rich food source for livestock.
By May 2019, Ms Mwangi started producing black soldier flies. Together with her five workers, Ms Mwangi uses potato peel waste as a substrate (sourced from her sisters’ business venture) to grow the flies. They currently produce an average of 500 kg of black soldier flies larvae every week, fed directly to her chickens and pigs. The high-protein black soldier fly increases the chicken’s growth rate and the amount of good, lean meat they produce.
‘Within two months, our chickens weigh 800 gms more and appear huge compared to layers and broilers in the market,’ says Ms Mwangi.
One chicken at live weight fetches 900 Kenyan Shillings (Kshs) (A$13.6) and 600Kshs (A$9.1) cold dressed. At the time of the interview with Ms Mwangi, she had sold 300 chickens and was seeking to produce an additional batch of 500 birds.
In her pig venture, Ms Mwangi can sell one pig carcass for between 16,000 and 18,000Kshs (A$242-272). She has 140 pigs with a feeding ratio of 25% black soldier flies, and she is looking at increasing the percentage to between 80 and 90%.
‘When feeding the pigs with black soldier flies, we have noticed that the pigs get to marketable size one and a half to two months earlier, which in turn reduces the feeding and labour costs involved in pig production in my facility. We have also noted the significant reduction in fat, resulting in more lean meat production from the pigs,’ says Ms Mwangi.
Ms Mwangi has been contracted to supply her pigs to Farmer’s Choice—a major pork retailer in Kenya. They graded the carcass quality of her pigs as ‘grade one’, especially the eye of the loin, as it has less fat compared with other suppliers. Farmer’s Choice is seeking to develop a partnership model with Ms Mwangi to train other pig farmers on black soldier flies rearing techniques based on her results.
Dried and packaged
Commercial production of black soldier flies is also underway with 24-year-old Talash Huijbers, a recent HAS University of Applied Sciences graduate, Netherlands. Ms Huijbers founded InsectiPro in her quest to source more sustainable protein feed solutions through insects.
With technical and financial support from INSFEED, Ms Huijbers received a starter pack of cricket seed and started experimenting with crickets. She is now the biggest producer of crickets among the entrepreneurs trained by icipe’s Insects for Food, Feed and Other Uses Programme. Her crickets are primarily grown for human food and not livestock feed.
In 2018, Ms Huijbers looked to expand to other insects for feeds options and approached INSFEED for help.
‘We started black soldier flies production in late 2018 with starter stock black soldier flies populations of larvae from icipe,’ says Ms Huijbers. ‘Currently, we are at 3 tonnes daily production and eyeing to supply the larvae to large scale feed enterprises in the region.’
From her production, Ms Huijbers dries at least 70% of the larvae and packages it for sale as livestock feed. The remaining 30% are raised to adult flies for the continuity of the colony. Her enterprise employs 43 people, 31 of them women, who are all below the age of 30.
Apart from creating a high protein content feed and supplementing farmers’ incomes, black soldier flies can be used to clean up vast quantities of bio-waste such as fruit and vegetable waste from markets, potato peels, beer waste, food waste, and pig manure. These products are readily available, and they are a nuisance to most people in Kenya due to their offensive and unbearable smell.
‘I started scouting for waste from our neighbours—[snack manufacturing company] Tropical Heat. When [supply] was assured, I set out to find more industrial waste at big companies as well as within the single markets,’says Ms Huijbers, who now collects food scraps and leftovers ranging from mango peels, watermelons, and beer waste, locally known as machicha.
When fed organic waste, black soldier flies produce nitrogen-rich frass (insect manure) that can be used as a high-performing fertiliser.
Dr Chrysantus Tanga, INSFEED project leader and a research scientist at icipe, explains, ‘the composting process of black soldier fly organic fertiliser takes five weeks compared to the 8–24 weeks for conventional organic fertilisers.’
The research team tested the black soldier fly frass fertiliser on maize in open field conditions. They found that plots treated with the frass fertiliser had 14% higher maize grain yields than plots treated with existing commercial organic fertiliser.
Plots were treated with 100kg of nitrogen per hectare, but it was applied in three different forms of fertiliser: black soldier fly frass, commercial organic and urea. The frass-treated plots produced 27% more grain than the commercial organic-treated plot and 7% more than the urea-treated plot.
Further studies have revealed that maize grown on plots treated with black soldier fly frass fertiliser generate 29–44% higher net incomes compared to plots amended with commercial organic fertiliser. The team is now exploring the use of frass fertiliser by smallholder farmers in low-income countries and its potential to create affordable revenue generation opportunities.
Over the past six months, and in partnership with Nairobi County, the INSFEED project team has trained over 1,096 farmers (733 men and 363 women) on sustainable ways of producing black soldier flies as feed for their animal and the frass fertiliser for their crops. ‘The project has also provided them with starter kits to set up their household production systems’, says Dr Tanga.
One significant barrier preventing would-be insect agripreneurs from getting involved in the emerging industry has been the lack of supporting policy. Insects are typically not considered domestic animals, requiring farmers to pay expensive annual certification fees and subject to tight restrictions limiting their ability to move and trade insects and insect products.
But in a recent policy breakthrough and following draft proposals being submitted by the INSFEED team, the Kenya Bureau of Standards announced new policies that would enable insect farmers, harvesters and processing industries to ‘sell their products in the local markets and beyond.’
Dr Tanga explained that with the development of the standards, ‘new opportunities have emerged to start the development of the insect value chain to harness the prospects across the entire chain that will allow producers, processors and suppliers, especially youth and women, to earn more income from insect farming.’
With a national system that better supports farmers in producing and harvesting insects, Kenya and its future agripreneurs are ready to take advantage of a new industry.
The INSFEED research initiative commenced in 2015 and is part of the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund, a partnership between ACIAR and the IDRC that leverages the strengths and resources of each organisation to improve overall food and nutrition security across Eastern and Southern Africa.