How black soldier farming can change farmers’ fortunes

Black Soldier Fly adult. PHOTO/Courtesy.

With the rising cost of animal feeds, many small scale farmers in Kenya are finding it an uphill battle to buy processed feeds for their poultry and livestock.

An unprecedented fuel crisis has not made the situation any easier as sharply-hiked prices have made the products hard to afford.

In a bid to find alternatives, enterprising and innovative individuals are now turning to insects as animal feed. One of these is the black soldier fly, which is found in most African countries.

Charles Odira is a farmer based in the wetland that is the Namthoi valley, Kisumu East Constituency, Kisumu County. He has adopted the farming of the black soldier fly.

“The fly’s larvae are a nutritious source of protein for chicken, which prefer it to factory processed feed,” he says.

Mr Odira has also noticed that the feed is also beneficial for marketing purposes as it helps the layers to produce larger and uniform-sized eggs.

“Since I started the project, my customers do not spend time looking for the larger eggs as the stock consists of bigger eggs which are the same size,” he says.

“The larvae mix also helps in the production of eggs with harder shells which reduces cases of breakage during transportation and storage,” says Mr Odira.

He also recycles the waste from the insects by running it through a special mill to produce fertilizer, which he sells to the local community.

Mr. Odira, who is a horticulture graduate from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), says he quit a board teacher’s job at St Anne’s High School in Homa Bay County to pursue agribusiness full time.

“My teaching days were fraught with anxiety as I would be forced to wait a long time for my meagre pay, which then shortly ran out after getting paid,” he told Ramogi TV in an interview, recently.

Dr. Julius Ecuru is the Manager of BioInnovate Africa which is an International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) subsidy dedicated to the development of solutions to technological and agricultural challenges.

ICIPE, which collaborates with more than 300 partners worldwide, plays a vital role in insect or entomological research in the East and Central Africa region as well as the globe.

He describes the firm’s approach to societal challenges as driven by the need to wisely use the resources provided by nature.

“BioInnovate uses nature-driven innovations to provide practical, affordable solutions to pressing societal challenges,” says Dr Ecuru.

As part of its work, BioInnovate is currently carrying out the black soldier fly project that also uses bio-waste to feed the adult insects.

“Black fly larvae are used as nutritious food rich in Omega 3 proteins,” Dr Ecuru tells The Scholar Media Africa.

BioInnovate is working on the project with partners in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The life cycle of black soldier fly.

Dr. Sunday Ekesi is the director of research and partnerships at ICIPE. He has been involved in the institute’s insects for food program since its inception in 2012.

“Meat, including insects, is going to play a huge role in enhancing food and nutritional security, In the last 50 years, we have seen a triple growth in the demand for meat. Currently, we produce around 340 million metric tons of meat,” says Dr. Ekesi.

According to the expert, around 80 Billion animals are slaughtered around the world annually. An average person eats around 43 kilograms of meat per year.

The slaughtered animals include 72bn chicken, 3.3bn ducks, 1.3bn pigs, 723m geese, 636m turkeys, 633m rabbits, 602m sheep, 503m goats and 325m cattle.

In 2020, reports that nearly two million heads of cattle and calves were slaughtered in Kenya.

“The amount declined sharply from 3m heads in the previous year, interrupting an upward trend observed since 2016. According to the source, the interruption in operations of hotels and restaurants due to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a reduction in the demand for beef meat,” writes Julie Faria on the site.

“As of 2020, some 12 million heads of sheep and goats were slaughtered in Kenya. The amount increased by 6.5 percent in comparison to the previous year,” the website reads.

“From 2016 onwards, the slaughtering of sheep and goats grew substantially in the country. For instance, around 8.2 million heads were slaughtered that year,” writes Ms. Faria.

Dr. Ekesi says the entire global livestock population requires significant amounts of feed as compared to insects kept for food.

“Accompanying the global meat demand is the demand for animal feed. At least 11 billion tons of compounded feed was produced in 2018,” the ICIPE expert says.

He reveals that insect protein has around 38-78 percent content, with plant protein varying at around 1-40 percent while animal protein has between 25-58 percent protein content.

“From the data, it is clear that insects can play a massive role in efforts to achieve food security,” says Dr. Ekesi.

“One averagely requires only 2kg of feed to produce 1 kg of insect protein. You need around 25 kg of feed of 1 kg of beef protein. You need 1 litre of water to produce 1 kg of insect feed, as compared to 22,000 litres of water for 1kg of beef protein,” says the scientist.

The significantly lower insect-based production cost, Dr. Ekesi believes, should be one of the pillars of the sustainable agriculture efforts going forward.

“Insects will certainly leave a lighter footprint on the environment compared to rearing livestock for protein. That’s why we believe that insects can play a major role in helping us achieve our carbon neutrality targets,” he says.

According to the Black Soldier Fly How-To Guide published by the University of North Carolina (UNC) Institute of Environment at Chapel Hill, the black soldier fly finds a mate within a few days of becoming an adult.

“After mating successfully, the black soldier flies lay their eggs near a potential food source. The flies, that are normally fond of the outdoors mostly near agricultural settings, prefer to breed and live around decaying matter like manure, carrion, plant refuse, and beehive waste products,” reads the report.

When the female lays her eggs, she deposits close to 500 eggs near the organic food source.

“The black soldier fly does not lay their eggs directly on the decaying organic material. The flies like laying their eggs in cracks and crevices near the organic material as the larvae will consume this material upon hatching,” the guide explains.

ICIPE research officer Faith Nyamu says black larvae eggs are first incubated for a period between 4 days to 3 weeks. They are then hatched after three days into a stage known as first instars.

She says the instars, which are afraid of light, are given time to move into the substrate, which contains feed.

“After incubating the eggs into instars, we put them in a tray containing feed in a mix known as substrate. They tend to burrow into the substrate and start feeding at the bottom,” says Ms. Nyamu.

Black soldier fly depositing eggs in worm farm.

After the substrate feed is fully used up, the instars are temporarily moved into a holding tray or enclosure to allow for the removal of the current one before a new batch of feed is put in place.

“We dispose of the waste after the feed is exhausted, to pave way for new substrate. Once we have separated the instars into a separate tray, it is introduced at the bottom to allow the young ones to be reintroduced,” adds the researcher.

The cycle is then repeated until they reach the fifth stage, where they can be milled and fed to poultry or livestock.

“Once they reach the fifth stage, we stop the feeding so that it dries and allows us to harvest. We then pass the mixture of worms and substrate through a mesh that leaves the worms on top and allows the substrate waste to filter through. This is milled and used as fertilizer,” she reveals.

“The time taken for the larvae to reach the fifth instar stage depends on the richness of the protein content. Larvae develop very fast when the substrate protein content is high,” the scientist says.

The fly larvae are then extracted from the substrate at the fifth stage using hot water. After being separated from those that have reached the pupa stage, the instars are then killed and fed to poultry or livestock.

Pupa stage offspring have lower protein content than stage 5 instars and are not used as animal feed. Instead, they are reared to become adult flies.

“For stable fly colonies that will guarantee production, we need the pupates or pupa stage offspring in addition to the eggs, and instars. The pupates are transferred into special cages where they can mature into adult flies and restart the production process at mating stage,” she explains.

According to Dr. Crysantus Tanga who heads the Insects for Food and Feed (INSEFF) program at ICIPE, the quality of meat from chicken raised on black soldier is higher than those raised on compounded feeds.

“From trials done with smallholder farmers in Kenya, broilers raised on black soldier fly feed get to market size between 1.2-2 months earlier than those fed on compounded feed while the layers produce better eggs. This translates to higher profits for farmers,” says Dr. Tanga.

Black soldier flies are able to convert waste into organic fertilizer that feeds back into agricultural production and helps with carbon.  

“An estimated 2 billion tons of waste is produced annually around the globe, but only 33 percent is efficiently recycled. The insect is therefore vital for the production of both animal feed and fertilizer,” says ICIPE partnerships boss, Dr. Ekesi.

Dr. Saliou Niassy heads the ICIPE Technology Transfer Unit in the Environmental Health Theme Team.

“Insect foods are higher in protein content compared to conventional protein foods such as fish, beans and soya. Chicken and pigs prefer insect-based feed compared to fish or soya meal,” Dr. Niassy says.

The insect foods are quite affordable and a reliable source of income in sustainable settings.

Dr. Niassy believes food security challenges can be alleviated by greater investment in the cultivation of insects for use in African diets.

“More than ever, it is vital for us to implement the adoption of a sustainable and circular approach to ecosystem services for better livelihoods, food and nutritional security. One of the ways to achieve this goal is switching to cheaper and more nutritious insect foods,” says the expert.

Dr. Ecuru adds that biodiversity conservation and biomass stewardship are required at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, including soil and watershed management.

Pursuing the objective with the involvement of local communities in the target areas will not only conserve the environment, but also create employment.

“Let us provide alternative livelihoods for communities that are biomass or natural site custodians. They also need farm inputs, fuel sources, markets, value chains and jobs,” says Dr. Ecuru.

He says the communities can also be involved as partners in efforts to reclaim degraded areas.

“Using science and technology, we can collectively optimize production and reclaim degraded environments,” adds the scientist.

Dr. Ecuru sees an enduring potential for even more significant and game changing biodiversity-based innovations in our economy.

He also emphasizes that further research and multi-sectoral collaborations are required to actualize this grand vision.

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  1. I’ve picked interest in BSF larver rearing. so i request you to let me know how i can be able to get eggs or young larver for starting the rearing in places near Busia.


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