Date released
14 December 2023

Frustrated by the lack of jobs for young people in Kenya, Ms Roseanne Mwangi left her job in child and youth development to pursue new enterprises that could better support young people with business and employment opportunities.

Today she works at the centre of the circular economy, heading a dynamic company that has grown from an idea hatched 5 years ago, growing black soldier fly larvae on organic waste.

Her company, The Insectary Ltd, creates value from waste streams, and dozens of jobs in the process. And she is teaching thousands of other farmers and food producers in Kenya and other parts of Africa how to do the same.

The success of her new enterprise is largely thanks to comprehensive research into black soldier fly production by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya, supported by ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as part of the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) project.

Wealth from waste

Heroes of the circular economy, the fast-growing black soldier fly larvae feast on organic waste such as food scraps and manure, adding value to previously worthless waste streams.

Within 18 days of hatching, the larvae can be fed to livestock such as chickens, pigs and fish, replacing more expensive and scarce sources of conventional protein feeds such as soybean or fishmeal.

The residue or ‘frass’ that remains after larvae production is proving to be a nutrient-rich fertiliser, helping farmers to supercharge crop yields. The frass can also help supress pathogens and disease in the soil.

And the production cycle continues as any unsold crops or produce deemed unfit for market, along with livestock manure, becomes the food source for a new generation of black soldier fly larvae.

‘Through the research we’ve birthed a completely new sector in waste management and unlocked a way of bringing real value from waste,’ said Ms Mwangi.

And that ‘real value’ has come from creating jobs while helping to address some big issues of the modern era. These include food security, by providing cheaper and higher quality feed for farmers to produce more nutritious meats, eggs, fish and crops more efficiently. Recycling or upcycling waste also reduces greenhouse emissions, helping to mitigate climate change.

Research scientist at icipe Dr Chrysantus Tanga led the CultiAF ‘Insect feed for poultry, fish and pig production in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (INSFEED) projects. He said it takes 6 months to break down waste through conventional composting. Black soldier flies do the same job in just 5 weeks.

‘So if we are able to recycle more waste using insects, we will be reducing the greenhouse emissions several folds while producing millions of tonnes of frass fertiliser and insect protein to meet ever-increasing demand from the growing population,’ said Dr Tanga.

Better livestock feed

Ms Mwangi first turned to the black soldier fly when she faced a problem with food waste.

To reduce food waste at her sister’s potato processing factory, she began using potato peels as a feed in her pig production business. But she was still faced with the issue of dealing with the manure from her pigs. Seeking other options for waste management, she approached icipe. There she found researchers deep into the second of 2 INSFEED projects that have laid the groundwork for a circular economy model of waste management based on black soldier fly farming.

icipe’s extensive research and testing established the safety and efficacy of using both manure and potato waste to feed black soldier fly larvae, and then to feed these nutrient-rich insects to the livestock. Ms Mwangi’s pigs now grow faster on their new feed, and are ready for market a month earlier than when they were fed on potato scraps.

‘We get a higher value from the black soldier flies eating the potato waste than we were getting from just the pigs eating it,’ said Ms Mwangi.

ACIAR Research Program Manager, Livestock Systems, Dr Anna Okello said Ms Mwangi’s venture epitomises how the circular economy can add value to existing resources and create jobs through an innovative and sustainable approach to food production and the environment.

‘The circular economy is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but this is a solid example of what it actually looks like in action,’ said Dr Okello.

A woman in a black shirt smiling holding a thermometer
Ms Roseanne Mwangi with a thermometer used to monitor and maintain the environment for black soldier fly larvae at The Insectary. Photo: ACIAR

Policy and employment

Dr Tanga said the INSFEED initiative engaged a range of stakeholders from the beginning to ensure ownership on the ground and rapid adoption of the technology.

Working with policymakers, it developed Kenya and Uganda’s first standards for the use of insect feed in the human food chain.

There is also widespread acceptance for insect-based products from farmers, millers and consumers.

‘Working with farmers, many of them women and youths under smallholder farming settings, insect-based technologies prove to be highly suitable and easily managed by people of all age groups,’ said Dr Tanga.

More than 60,000 farmers have been trained in black soldier fly technology and code of practices – some through the INSFEED projects, others by producers  such as Ms Mwangi.

‘So farmers are not only making money from the protein that they give their livestock but also from the training,’ said Dr Tanga. ‘There is a very high multiplier effect of this technology across the community.’

Thousands of other jobs have spun-off from the technology, including enterprises led by youth and women, building shelves, nets, containers and other insect-rearing infrastructure.

There are multiple value chains, and it benefits people from all age groups, genders and education levels,’ said Dr Tanga.

Dr Okello said the INSFEED projects represent the longest running investment for ACIAR in the circular economy. It is also ‘probably the best’ example she has seen of policy and private enterprise aligning with research.

And this has helped to achieve broad uptake, and impact, in the community. ‘It’s a perfect research pathway and a testament to the scientists at icipe and the relationships they have with their partners in government and the private sector,’ said Dr Okello.

a group of people standing behind yellow and green bins filled with insect larvae

Scaling up production

Dr Tanga said there is significant interest from the private sector and consumers in other products and applications the icipe team have been developing using black soldier fly and other insects.

These include cosmetics and soaps made with larvae oil that is rich in lauric acid and could help treat fungal and bacterial infections.

New projects are also looking at using insect oil as a feedstock in biodiesel production. Insect oil is also being evaluated as a feed additive for dairy cows that could improve milk production and quality, and potentially boost the immunity of the people who consume that milk.

A new $3 million ACIAR-supported project, PROTeinAfrica, will see icipe partner with private enterprise and community-led agribusiness to scale up and commercialise production of insect-based feed to meet demand in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

‘Our key focus now is to increase availability of the insect protein and its derived products, both in quantity and quality. And also, to increase employment opportunities across the value chain, particularly for women and youths,’ said Dr Tanga.

An Emerging Insect Technology Hub, partnered by icipe, ACIAR and AgriFutures Australia, has also been established to share knowledge and produce a ‘gold standard’ manual for black soldier fly technologies.

This will support the development of insect-based waste management strategies and other applications in Australia and the Pacific region.

a group of people talking together surounded by crates of black soldier flies
Ms Roseanne Mwangi provides training for entrepreneurs keen to start their own black soldier fly operations. Photo: The Insectary

ACIAR PROJECT: ‘Upscaling the benefits of insect-based animal feed technologies for sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa (PROTeinAfrica)’ (LS/2020/154)