Insects offer cheaper option to costly chicken, fish feed ingredients
Alex Katu tends to the black soldier fly farm at Bug’s Life Farm in Mtalani, Machakos County, Kenya. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG
The urgency to find an alternative livestock feed ingredient for fishmeal and soymeal has led to market recognition of insect protein.
Two years ago, out of the need for cheaper chicken feed, Shem Awiri started a black soldier fly (BSF) project on his farm.
Located in Lukenya, Machakos County, some 100km from Nairobi, Bugs Life Protein farm has become a supplier of dry weight BSF larvae not just for its chicken farm, but also for a local animal feeds company.
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The BSF section is under two large greenhouses each measuring 42m by 8m, as well as a warehouse on the 20-acre farm. Here, they produce one tonne of dry weight BSF larvae per month.
“From what we produce, we feed half to our poultry and the other half we sell to a local animal feeds company. We also produce BSF eggs for breeding, which they sell to upcoming local farmers. After the final harvest stage, the bio-waste excretion is used as fertiliser,” says Shem.
In Tanzania, Otaigo Elisha runs NovFeed BSF farm, located in the coastal city of Dar es Salam. For the past five years, the company has been supporting local small fish farmers by developing a sustainable fish feed. They do this by raising black soldier fly maggots, then drying and grinding them up into a high-protein powder.
This was after returning from Indonesia, where he had gone for a master’s degree in Natural Resource and Environmental Economics.
“While there, I travelled to different provinces to see the contribution of the fisheries sector to development.”
When he went back home, he conducted a survey among fish farmers, and found out that harmful and expensive feed options inflated production costs.
“They mainly used seasonal ingredients and silver cyprinid (omena) in small batches which was nutritionally inadequate and caused stunted growth of fish, making the cultivation period to grow and sell fish too long.”
Source of protein
Currently, soybean and omena are the main protein ingredients in animal feed processing in East Africa.
However, the cost of these two protein sources for animal feed have continued to surge over the past few years, making them inaccessible and unsustainable for smaller holder poultry and fish farmers across Africa.
Rwanda imports protein raw materials for animal feed, like soybeans, often at high prices. “This escalated the cost of animal feed. Between 2019 and 2022, prices rose by more than 130 percent, from $0.44 per kilogramme to $1.01 per kilogramme in 2022, forcing farmers to make do with lower nutrient feeds,” said Dr Solange Uwituze, deputy director-general of Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board.
The situation is not any better in Kenya. “Kenya requires about 70,000 metric tonnes of soybean per year, but the supply hardly reaches 15,000 metric tonnes. And competition for human consumption has made things worse,” says Jo Ryan, Interim CEO for True Trade Africa, a social enterprise providing smallholder farmers with a route to market and fair prices for produce.
The situation has further been compounded by Covid-19. A 2021 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on the impacts of Covid-19 notes that in West Africa, most live markets were shut during the pandemic causing a drop in the supply of cattle and small ruminants.
These supply disruptions, caused by the Covid-19 have hampered access to nutritional foods especially in Africa.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2020 by WFP, indicates that in 2020, Covid-19 may have added up to 132 million undernourished people.
It further indicates that in Africa, where the number of undernourished people is growing faster than in any other region, was estimated to have reached more than 250 million undernourished people as the pandemic compounded the effects of climate shocks and conflicts that were already causing hunger in many parts of the region.
The cost of grain, another important ingredient in feed production, has also been affected by the Russia-Ukraine war.
According to Trade Map 2022 statistics, Africa imported agricultural products worth $4 billion from Russia in 2020. On the other hand, Ukraine exported $2.9 billion of agricultural products to Africa in 2020, and soybean was on the list of grains exported.
FAO estimates that food production will have to increase by 70 percent to be able to feed the world in 2050, with meat outputs (beef, poultry and pork) expected to double. The demand leads to protein shortages and the search for alternative supplies of sustainable protein sources is needed.
A major constraint is the cost of feed, leading to substitutes like fishmeal and soybean meal, which represent 60-70 percent of the production costs.
The urgency to find an alternative livestock feed ingredient for fishmeal and soymeal has led to market recognition of insect protein. “Such shocks call for innovative solutions to cushion smallholder poultry and livestock farmers,” explains Dr Lesley Macheka, an insects researcher based in Zimbabwe.
Dr Macheka says the BSF larvae as an alternative low-cost protein source has been generating interest across Africa.
A study, Edible insect farming as an emerging and profitable enterprise in East Africa, published on ScienceDirect last year, estimates that up to 9,780 metric tonnes of dried BSF proteins are produced annually in the region, through a circular economy approach.
This, the report indicates, is sufficient to substitute fish or soybean meal in animal feeds.
From research conducted by Icipe in 2020, the BSF farming market in Kenya grew with an estimated 63 small and medium scale enterprise in 2020, and over 5,000 farmers have been trained in BSF rearing by the institute.
The situation is similar in Rwanda.
“We project scaling-up operations to produce at least 5,000 tonnes of dry insects for poultry feed, while processing about 100,000 metric tonnes of waste annually. Our aim is to reach a production capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes of dry insects by processing over 500,000 metric tonnes of waste annually,” noted Jean Baptiste Musabyimana, CEO and founder, Abusol Ltd, a commercial poultry farm in Nyamata, Rwanda.
So why a sudden interest in the insect across the continent?
According to experts, insect farming has low requirements for land and water, and high conversion efficiency of feed into insect biomas.
Bug’s Life farm in Machakos County.
“Insect production systems reduce the reliance on conventional feed streams like fishmeal and grains, particularly soymeal,” adds Dr Chrysantus Tanga, a research scientist at Icipe.
There is also the nutrition aspect of it.
“BSF protein is of high quality-essential amino acids such as methionine, an essential amino acid critical to poultry health. Chicken and fish reared on BSF-based feed has improved carcass characteristic and better taste,” says Monica Ayieko, professor of consumer economics at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Kenya.
According to Prof Ayieko, a farmer can sell the products in the BSF value chain-dry BSF larvae, BSF based fish mash/pellets, BSF-based poultry growers mash, thus cutting cost of feed for livestock such as poultry and fish.
But apart from the nutritional value, it has to do with the sustainability of producing this kind of protein.
“When it comes to BSF, you need a small piece of plot to rear and basic rearing inputs naturally available. Also, BSF multiplies faster within a short period. This insect has a short life-cycle and within 14 days larvae are mature for use,” she explained.
The benefits of this type of farming extend to the environment. Dr Tanga says, insect farming brings valuable ingredients from organic waste materials from agriculture, food industries and other sectors back into the food chain. But supply seems to be the major headache.
“That is why we engage the procedure by ensuring safe processing methods to eliminate pathogens.”
“Though farmers have shown great interest in the product because of the growth performance of the livestock and fish, the supply is not sufficient and no company is solely using BSF larval meal. This is because there is no consistent supply from the farmers to meet the demand of the processors,” explains Dr Tanga.
Also, he says, the current market prices for insects as feed ingredients are either comparable or slightly higher than prices for alternative protein sources (fish meal, soybean meal).
“Other than that, the nutrient (especially protein) content of BSF larvae fluctuates greatly depending on the substrates it feeds on. Formulation of feeds with BSF larvae require repeated tests for better precision, unlike other protein sources with less variation in protein content.”
He says there is a need to increase extension services to educate farmers on the nutritional benefits of insect meals in animal feeds.
“Existing market opportunities will improve farmers’ attitude towards utilisation and significantly reduce the existing pressure on conventional fishmeal feed resources,” adds Dr Tanga.
By Pauline Ongaji and Learnmore Nyoni. The reporting of this article was supported by International Centre for Journalists Global Nutrition and Food Security programme, Eleanor Crook Foundation.