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Insect incomes support livelihood resilience

September 7, 2021
Media
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The Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) is a ten-year, CA$35 million partnership (AUD$37 million) between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). CultiAF funds applied research aimed at improving food security, resilience, and gender equality across Eastern and Southern Africa.

As populations expand worldwide, the demand for food, and protein in particular, represents a significant challenge to the global food system. Traditional meat production requires the use of expensive animal feeds, which account for 70-80% of production costs and can “out price” smallholder farmers. To enable more farmers to take up livestock production and meet increasing nutritional demands, an affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative protein source for feed is required. Rich in protein, fat, minerals, and amino acids, insects represent a viable solution.

To demonstrate the technical feasibility and economic profitability of insects for feed, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) established the Insect feed for poultry and fish in Kenya and Uganda (INSFEED) project. It is supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF), a 10-year partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. In its first phase, INSFEED assisted over 200 small enterprises and 3,000 farmers in Kenya to tap into the opportunities of black soldier fly (BSF) farming by providing training in BSF rearing and utilization of insect protein as an alternative animal protein source. In the second phase, the training has been scaled out to reach over 6,500 additional farmers, and the market opportunities have developed to include the transformation of municipal waste into value-added, high-quality fertilizer for enhanced crop production.

Outcomes

Insect entrepreneurs

In addition to the 6,500 farmers reached, a separate group of more than 1,300 farmers has undergone a five-day, hands-on incubation course on all aspects of BSF farming. Of those trained, 356 farmers are already producing BSF at four sites in Kenya, and more than 103 new insect-based enterprises – producing up to three tonnes of fresh BSF larvae per week – have been successfully established. For example, insect-rearing enterprises, which include InsectiPro Ltd and Ecodudu Ltd, are processing, packaging, and marketing dried BSF-based products to local feed millers. The project has organized the enterprises to form a cooperative to enable them to sell their insect products in bulk and provide them with a competitive marketing edge.

In the Kenyan counties of Bungoma, Kiambu, Nyandarua, and Siaya, four youth groups of 60 members each have been engaged in the intensive training course on all aspects of BSF farming and have received additional training in marketing. As well as producing and selling insect larvae, the youths are leading demonstration farms and learning sites in each county, as established by the project, and are accessing an additional income source by providing training to women’s groups as well as other youths in the community.

Securing incomes during COVID-19

The project trained the farmers on best practices for processing (drying) BSF larvae to effectively preserve and store their BSF prior to supplying local feed millers, and to ensure good quality of the marketed products. However, due to movement restrictions in Kenya as part of the COVID-19 lockdown, many of the producers have not been able to travel to access the drying technology. To address this problem, the project has purchased a communal dryer, which will be installed in Nairobi and be accessible to all the farmers.

Having benefited from the project’s training and use of the provided technology, local farmer Roseanne Mwangi is producing between 700 kg and 1 tonne of BSF larvae every week. The insects are fed directly to her chickens and pigs and have been found to increase the growth rate of the chickens and the quality of lean meat produce. “Within two months, our chickens weigh 800 grams more and appear huge compared to layers and broilers in the market,” said Mwangi, who can now sell her chickens for 900 Kenyan shillings (approximately CA$10.47) each.

The project is therefore enabling participating farmers to diversify their operations, moving from purely livestock to insect-feed production as well. The smallholder farmers are also reducing their production costs as they no longer need to purchase costly, imported animal feeds for their livestock. Women farmers in particular are benefiting from training in the production of fertilizer using the BSF feces, or frass, which is generated during the larvae-rearing process. The frass fertilizer is sold to local vegetable and maize farmers for 1,500-2000 Kenyan shillings (approximately CA$17-23) per 50-kg bag to provide the farmers with an additional income under lockdown. The product has proven to increase crop yields significantly. For instance, field plots treated with BSF fertilizers were found to increase maize grain yields by 27% when compared to commercial organic fertilizer and 7% when compared to urea fertilizers.

Improving the policy landscape

Approval and publication by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) of three insect standards, drafted by icipe and the project partners to regulate and guide the production of edible insects and their processed products, is a significant milestone for the insect-feed industry. The standards, which have also been modified and published by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, are critical for insect-based product development, certification, and commercialization at the national and international levels, and will allow farmers and processors to achieve accreditation to sell their insect products worldwide.

The optimisation of BSF frass fertilizer during INSFEED phase 2 is opening up further market opportunities for local farmers and entrepreneurs, while providing relevant information for policy development around the new product. KEBS has already been engaged by icipe to initiate the process of standard development for the frass fertilizer; the publication of such will promote its successful introduction to the market by boosting confidence among the target users.

Conclusion

Insect meal-based animal feed is unquestionably a growing market in Kenya and Uganda, with high acceptance among farmers and feed producers. BSF harvesting is also proving important for livelihood resilience and is reducing production costs for livestock farmers facing income uncertainty during the pandemic.

The publication of supportive policies and standards around insect production is an important step for the project and the insect-feed industry and will help to further enhance awareness and adoption of BSF-based products. However, further sensitization campaigns are recommended if the products are to reach their full market potential.

Looking to the future, the project will continue its research and development around other value-added products, including insect oils as an additive to the animal feed as well as in cosmetic soaps, and the production of BSF chitin for improved soil health and crop protection against pests.

Research highlights

  • In Kenya and Uganda, over 96% and 95% of livestock farmers, respectively, are willing to use insect-based feed in their animal husbandry.
  • Over 85% of feed producers in Kenya and 92% in Uganda showed willingness to integrate insects into their feed products.
  • Substituting fish meal protein with insect meal improved the weight gain and protein content of fish and livestock.
  • Three new standards on codes of practice, insect products, and products containing insects have been developed and approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).