A youth group is making a killing by rearing the black soldier fly for fertiliser and animal feed production and protecting the environment.
By Clifford Akumu
His first memory of organic waste was seeing mountains of garbage-infested with houseflies whenever he visited Nairobi’s sprawling slums.
Mr Nicholas Maleve Ndetei, 24, says: “It was an eyesore.”
Today, mention food leftovers, mushy avocados, rotten bananas, and others, and the young entrepreneur wants them all.
On his father’s 0.1-acre piece of land at Kabete on the western outskirts of Nairobi, he enthusiastically receives organic waste brought from the nearby Wangige Market and Ndumboini pig slaughterhouse, which he feeds his black soldier fly (BSF) larvae.
And with the help of some of the Y-Minds Connect youth group members, he sorts and dumps the waste into a compost pit awaiting use. The 60-member youth group that rears black soldier flies for animal feed, which Mr Ndetei founded in 2019.
Inside a nearby greenhouse, 1,500 crates of BSF larvae are neatly arranged with each at different stages of growth. Each crate accommodates 3kg of larvae.
There are also cages made of light cotton material, with piles of blocks or wood. Here, the BSF lay eggs. Once the eggs are hatched, they are processed and put into a container that has a wet cotton wool with glucose and wheat bran for food. When the larvae are five days old, they are put into trays to consume the organic waste.
“We are now part of a circular economy,” says Mr Ndetei. “We are rearing these insects, which convert the organic waste into organic fertiliser, while the larvae are also a good source of crude protein (60 per cent) for animal feed,” adds the Bachelor of Science in Finance graduate.
Born and bred in Nairobi, Mr Ndetei attended some prestigious institutions before taking a keen interest in agriculture during his last years of studying finance at the United States International University-Nairobi. He graduated in 2020.
It was during a class that he learnt about the Insfeed programme and the black soldier fly, which piqued his interest. The Insfeed programme****** (explain the project)
“I was the only one in a class of 40, who was interested in the programme, which ran for two months. That is how I fell in love with the black soldier fly, an insect that feeds on waste and can be produced in tonnes within a short time,” he adds.
Soon, the young man would turn to the same garbage and waste he loathed, to carve out a lucrative agripreneurship.
His group is among several youth and women’s groups in Kenya that rear the black soldier fly insect to provide a cheaper and more nutritious source of protein for livestock.
The BSF has a simple life cycle. The adult survives for about only a week to mate and lay eggs, which become larvae.
The larvae take 10 days to grow. “At this stage, they need to be fed, too. We have found high value in waste and are tuning it into gold,“ he proudly says.
The group produces 600kg of BSF faeces (‘frass’) every week, which they sell as fertiliser to flower, horticulture and organic farmers at Ksh100 per kilo. The frass, under the name Zihanga, can also be fed to pigs, fish, and chickens directly, or added to animal feed.
The group also earns additional revenue from the training it offers to women’s and youth groups in insect rearing and production.
“We charge between Ksh2,000 and Ksh5,000 for training sessions. However, this changes depending on the number of attendees,” Mr Ndetei says.
Feeds account for abour70 per cent of the cost of raising livestock. But scarcity and the high costs of ingredients in recent years have left livestock farmers grappling with the incessant price increases.
Therefore, the need for an alternative, cost-effective, environment-friendly animal feed protein source is critical.
“We were mesmerised by the BSF’s potential,” he adds.
Made up of high levels of proteins, fats, minerals and amino acids, these insects offer suitable, nutritious substitutes to commercial feed protein sources.
A study by the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) indicates that replacing five to 50 per cent of the fish meal and maize in conventional animal feeds with insects, would provide enough protein to feed between 470,000 and 4.8 million people, in just one year.
And due to the Icipe-led project, youth and women’s groups have been able to raise and process insects and sell them as livestock feeds.
Ms Doreen Ariwi, another agripreneur, has benefitted from producing enough BSF to feed over 6,000 chickens (at different stages) on her poultry farm in Mutalani Village, Machakos County.
The 20-acre poultry and insect-rearing farm in the semi-arid region is a spectacle, occasionally punctuated with the cackles of the birds as they perch in the coop.
With an initial stock of 5kg of the insects from Icipe, Ms Ariwi now breeds the BSF in 3,000 trays in three greenhouses. BSF farming has enabled her to reduce the amount of commercial feeds she uses.
As of May 2021, she had reduced purchases to 300 bags per month from 450 bags, thanks to supplementation with insect, which she feeds directly to the chickens, or mixes with feeds resulting in 30 per cent savings.
“These insects are supporting us to keep the chickens. The integrated farming method is remarkable,” says the 40-year-old Ariwi.
But before she got a foothold in the chicken business, which she had started in 2012, she had been forced to close down two years later, due to high prices of commercial feeds. It was not until 2019 that a friend informed her about the Insfeed project.
“I got inspired and decided to give it a try,” she says.
That inspiration has, today birthed a new enterprise – Bugs Life Protein Limited, which supplies 220 kilos of BSF surplus to a company producing insect-based pet food.
For each kilo, she charges Ksh320, earning her an additional income. She has also achieved a 62 per cent increase in egg production and a longer duration in egg production from her flock.
One bird can eat 82 grams a day, and this helps them increase in growth rate and boosts the immune system.
“The larvae feed on chicken manure and, once the insects mature, we feed them to the chickens. There is zero waste, which is one of our missions at the farm. As we push for sustainable and greener communities, insects have assisted us in achieving that goal,” she adds.
More so, the establishment of an insect-for-feed value chain would also create between 2,500 and 3,000 jobs annually, thus helping reduce poverty among some of the worlds’ poorest.
Dr Chrysantus Tanga, and Insfeed project leader and Icipe research scientist, says: “We train SMEs on how to handle each insect stage for better productivity, then give the enterprises their initial stock. Some have produced the insects for their own use, and others have partnered with companies to supply to them.”
Customs and beliefs, he notes, are some of the setbacks in the uptake of insects for food projects. Another challenge is lack of insect producers to serve the huge market.
Dr Tanga explains that the insect rearing value chain has also created new enterprises, with youth and women making insect ‘nests’, in which the insect reproduce
Entrepreneurs such as Mr Ndetei are also enjoying support from insect feed standards that are meant to streamline the value chain and open markets. The guidelines have enhanced production, processing, and handling of insects and their by-products.
In 2017, Kenya was the first African country to formulate standards on insect for food and feed.
Kebs manager Peter Mutua says: “With this code of practice, insect farmers, harvesters, and processing industries can now get accreditation, and their products will be issued with a Kenya Bureau of Food Standards (Kebs) certificate. This enables them to market and sell their products in local markets and out of the country.”
Ms Ariwi notes: “We are planning to set up a satellite training for SMEs across the larger Ukambani region.”
Y-Minds Connect plans to cater for over 100 youth groups by 2026.
“In future, I want to establish over 20 facilities that farm BSF in major markets in Kenya, in order to tackle the organic waste menace,” she concludes.