Agricultural entrepreneurs in East Africa find fortune in insect feed

Animal feed prices in sub-Saharan Africa have steadily risen because of scarcities and higher costs due to increased demand for ingredients, such as cereals, soybeans, and fishmeal. Incorporating human foods, such as fish and meat, in conventional animal feed has affected their availability.

Doreen Ariwi produces enough BSF to feed her over 6,000 chickens

The costs associated with feeds make up 70% of input costs in poultry and fish production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the world will need to produce 200 million tonnes of meat more by 2050 in order to feed its projected population of 9.1 billion people. In this day and age, there is an urgent demand for alternative, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly protein sources for animal feed.

Insect rearing

In response to this need, the Insect Feed for Poultry, Fish, and Pig Production (InsFeed) project has investigated using insects, such as black soldier flies (BSF), in animal feeds. These insects provide a suitable, nutritious substitute for commercial feed protein sources due to their high protein, fat, mineral, and amino acids content.

A study by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) found that substituting 5 to 50% of fish meal and maize with insects can provide enough protein to feed between 470,000 and 4.8 million people in just one year. 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 world’s poorest.

Through its launch and first phase, which began in 2014, and its second phase, which began in 2017, the InsFeed project has promoted and increased the rearing, harvesting, processing, and use of insects in fish and poultry feed among 57,000 farmers in Kenya and Uganda.

Additionally, over 100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have contributed to the project. The establishment of these businesses has resulted in the creation of more than 1,200 jobs - particularly for women and youth - as well as the production of up to three tonnes of fresh BSF larvae per week.

Supporting insect feed standards

For a more efficient value chain and to open market opportunities for entrepreneurs, the project has developed feed standards for both countries. As a result of these guidelines, insect production, processing, and handling have improved, and mass insect production and marketing have become possible.

"These standards, the first to be developed in Africa, are a milestone in supporting farmers and industry players who are interested in farming insects. 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 enabling them to market and sell their products in local markets and beyond the country," explains Peter Mutua, Kebs manager.

InsFeed is one of eight projects funding through the Cultivate Africa's Future Fund, a joint initiative between the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and Canada's International Development Research Centre. The insect initiative is run by ICIPE in partnership with governments, the private sector, and cooperatives.

          Nicholas Mareve, CEO of Y Minds Connect, started BSF breeding to access a better livelihood

Investing in bug business

As a result of the project, women, women groups, and youth have been able to raise and process insects and sell them as livestock feeds. One of these entrepreneurs, Doreen Mbaya Ariwi, currently produces enough BSF to feed over 6,000 chickens (different ages) on her poultry farm.

As a result of training in insect production and an initial stock of 5kg from ICIPE, Ariwi breeds the insects in 3,000 trays in three greenhouses (also provided by ICIPE). Additionally, she supplies a local company that produces insect-based pet food with 220 kg of BSF surplus. For 1kg of BSF, Ariwi charges Ksh320 (CA$3.56/AU$3.86), earning her an additional income stream.

By adopting BSF farming, Ariwi has also been able to reduce the amount of commercial feed she uses. As of May 2021, she has bought 300 bags per month instead of 450 bags, thanks to supplementation with insects, which she feeds directly to the chickens or mixes with conventional feed. This has resulted in a 30% savings.

"It would have been very difficult for us to keep the chickens we have without the support of the insects. The integrated farming method has been remarkable. The insects and chickens are interdependent.

"The BSF 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 says.

On 0.1 acres of land provided by the parents of one of the youth, Y Minds Connect has been rearing BSF larvae in 1,500 crates, which can each house 3 kilograms of larvae, to meet the inflated demand for alternative protein sources.

"We believe that one man’s waste is another man’s treasure, and that is why we have been keen to pursue insect farming. Working on a project at a low cost that helps the community and the environment is profitable, and is fulfilling. Feeds account for an estimated 70% of the cost of raising livestock, and we have been mesmerized by the potential of BSF to address this challenge," enthuses 24-year-old Nicholas Mareve, CEO of Y Minds Connect.

Y Minds Connect produces 600 kg of BSF faeces (‘frass’) every week for use as fertilizer by horticulture, flower, and organic farmers for Ksh100 (CA$1.15/AU$1.24) per 1kg. By teaching insect rearing and production to women and youth groups, the organization earns additional income. Depending on the number of attendees, the cost ranges from Ksh2,000 (CA$22/AU$23) to Ksh5,000 (CA$56/AU$60).

"We train SMEs in 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, whilst others have partnered with companies to supply to them," says Dr Chrysantus Tanga, InsFeed project leader and ICIPE research scientist.

He notes that the insect rearing value chain has also formed new businesses, where young people and women are able to create insect 'nests', in which insects reproduce, as well as greenhouse structures that farmers can buy.

With more farmers learning how to rear insects for feed, and SMEs choosing to work directly with feed mills to supply them, an insect-rearing revolution is about to take off in sub-Saharan Africa. Several countries, such as Rwanda, are now introducing standards to streamline insect rearing, and to address the twin problems of feed shortages and price hikes.