As the world’s population increases and climate change deepens, leaders from across the globe look to alternative food sources to enhance environmental sustainability and mitigate food insecurity and inequality. One of those alternative sources is insects, both as a source of nutrition for people and for domestic animals.
In South Africa in particular, the use of black soldier fly (BSF) larvae as animal feed is being touted as a more sustainable alternative to expensive, traditional feeds. Lowell Scarr, a BSF farmer from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, says that the production of BSF larvae solves a number of problems, including the recycling of food waste and replacing unsustainable feed imports.
“It brings back into the food system food that otherwise would be wasted, sent to landfill or similarly composted,” he says.
“[In other words,] it brings out nutrients or keeps them in the food system as a form of feed and also then replaces the need for alternative, unsustainable proteins like soya, which is largely imported from South America or the Americas where it’s often grown on land that used to be Amazon rainforest.
“It also replaces the need for fishmeal as a protein source, which is highly unsustainable as well. It is essentially catching wild fish to feed farm fish, which doesn’t make sense.”
Through his company, Nambu, Scarr produces BSF larvae to feed chickens, pigs, fish, and exotic pets. Although he does not have a background in agriculture he hopes to move into the sector more firmly.
“I don’t necessarily come from agricultural background as such, but I’ve always wanted to go into agriculture. And that sort of brought me to where I am now, where I produce the insects for animal feed.”
Benefits of BSF farming
In this guide to BSF farming, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) says that the insect is one of the most beneficial flies in existence and is not considered a pest. Adult BSFs do not have mouths, so they cannot feed on waste as your average housefly does. They also cannot bite and only feed while they are in the larvae state.
The fly also helps keep the common housefly at bay. And because the larvae can feed on toxic organic waste, it is an ideal solution to getting rid of animal faeces, waste from abattoirs, and wet organic waste in landfills.
For Scarr, part of the allure of BSF farming is that it can be done without many of the traditional and expensive elements required to be a farmer.
“Wanting to go into the agricultural sector, I was looking for something that I could get involved in without having access to land, in ideally a peri-urban type setting, and that had the opportunity to create really strong employment benefits. [I also wanted] something that could be spread out so we could scale. And obviously, just given the size of insects, they’re very scalable. That’s their nature, their biology.”
How to start a BSF farm
Since BSF farms do not require much space, setting up an enterprise of this nature is fairly accessible to your average aspiring BSF farmer. The ARC lists three requirements for a BSF farm; a BSF bin, BSF larvae to start off the operation, and the organic waste from your household or other agricultural operations to add to the BSF bin.
Scarr explains that there is not really a neat way to farm BSF larvae. He says aspiring farmers would need to be willing to get their hands dirty. “[Aspiring fly farmers] need some patience, a willingness to get down and dirty, to deal with food waste, to deal with insects. They also need a space where they can do it, ideally undercover, but it can be small. I started in a garage. They also need some access to a food waste stream or agricultural waste streams, so it can be anything from chicken manure all the way through to kitchen waste, essentially.”
Challenges in the industry
He also explains that the industry is still fairly new, and that comes with its own challenges.
“There’s limited info available and few people will be willing to share it because everyone had to work really hard to develop what knowledge and skills they have, and so they want to charge for that or keep it to themselves to keep their competitive advantage.”
Another element he highlights is the underdevelopment of BSF farming infrastructure. “We are in the early stage of the industry, and that means that a lot of the technologies, underlying production systems, and all the rest are very undeveloped. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it so, as much as there’s a huge opportunity for it, at this stage a lot of players have found themselves having to play across the board just to be able to fill the gaps. They do everything from waste collection, to production, to post-production processing through to retail.”
Scarr’s advice to aspiring BSF farmers is to “just start.”
“Be brave. Be bold. Start. That’s the biggest thing. Just start something, and be willing to learn and realise that you likely going to fail along the way. Be realistic about the fact that it’s going to be tough and that you’re going to probably fail along the way, not just once, but many times. You have to be resilient. You have to keep your head down and just keep going.”
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