Reporting for duty: black soldier flies to farmers’ rescue

It looks like a wasp but buzzes like a bee... How can the creepy little critter called black soldier fly benefit farmers? Quite a lot, it seems, as it has a remarkable ability to turn organic waste into high-quality protein and fertiliser

Some farmers are using black soldier flies as a source of protein to feed their livestock. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Some farmers are using black soldier flies as a source of protein to feed their livestock. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The skyrocketing animal feed prices have pushed many farmers to look for alternative ways to keep their livestock alive and healthy. Some have resorted to unconventional methods, such as black soldier flies as protein source.

Known as the black soldier fly (BSF), this insect has the ability to transform organic waste into high-quality protein and fertiliser. The insects are used as a protein source in animal feeds for poultry, aquaculture, pigs and pet food. The fertiliser can be used to cost-effectively boost crop yields.

Simon Hazell, co-founder and chief executive officer of Inseco, a company that produces BSF in Cape Town, says while insects are not commonplace in western diets, there are over 2 billion people worldwide that regularly eat insects as part of their diet.  

Inseco produces large volumes of dried insect protein and fertiliser and currently supplies the local aquaculture market with an insect-based feed that replaces 100% of the fishmeal and fish oil.

“We’ve done extensive trials, and we’ve shown that our product not only improves the overall sustainability of the feed, but generates meaningful performance benefits to the farmer,” explains Hanzell.

EntoSoil, produced by Inseco. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Looks like a wasp, buzzes like a bee

According to the South African Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the larvae of the BSF is a scavenger with powerful mouth parts that can recycle any organic material, especially decaying material. More interestingly, it has also been used in forensic pathology to establish a time of death of a decaying body

“The organic material includes food scraps, rotten food, mould, coffee grounds, kraal manure, pet waste, animal offal, waste plant material and many more. The insect does not eat materials that are still alive. You can easily put your hands in the BSF bin.”

The adult fly looks like a wasp and buzzes like a bee, but does not sting. Black soldier flies can be seen in bright, sunlit areas, resting on nearby structures or vegetation and frequenting flowers of the daisy and carrot families.

Flies to feed pets, even people

According to an article by Farming Portal, a female BSF can lay 500 eggs daily after mating. About 1 kg of the eggs will produce 380 kg of larvae in just three days. In just 10 days, they would have hatched, grown into 1 cm long larvae for harvest, and are then processed into a dry powder that is ready for use in livestock feed.

Inseco also supplies the local pet industry with dried insect protein. Hanzell says research has shown that insect protein is better for dogs compared to conventional proteins such as beef.

“The high digestibility of the protein, coupled with its hypoallergenic properties, has led to our product becoming an ingredient of choice among both local and international pet food brands.

“In time, we hope to release a human-grade insect protein line. When reduced to a powdered form, the product has a nutty aroma and is ideal for consumers looking for a high-quality protein that is affordable, easily digestible and good for the environment,” he concludes.  

ALSO READ: 10 tips to cut down on animal feed costs

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