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The Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) is a ten-year, CA$35-million partnership 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. 

Following growing demand among Kenyan farmers and pet food companies, young CultiAF-supported entrepreneurs created alternative, affordable protein sources for animal feed.  

In undertaking insect rearing, an exciting new lifeline and source of income has been established for a group of 100 Kenyan youth who previously struggled to find full-time employment. Known as ‘Y Minds Connect’, the Kiambu County-based group, of whom members are all aged in their 20s, came together in 2019 to create their own black soldier fly (BSF) production enterprise. In addition to securing better livelihoods, their aim was to encourage other young people to consider agriculture as a business venture.  

Y Minds Connect embarked on BSF farming to create alternative, affordable protein sources for animal feeds. Members were trained in insect production at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in 2019, after which they were given a stock of BSF eggs and rearing equipment (such as greenhouses, crates, and cages) by icipe. On less than 0.04 ha (0.1 acre) of land, provided by one member’s parents, Y Minds Connect is now producing 1,500 crates of BSF larvae per month, with each crate accommodating 3 kg of larvae. 

Tapping into the benefits of BSF 

One of the largest abattoirs in Kenya, Ndumbuini Slaughter House, is a major supplier of waste that is used to feed the insects. This supply is added to waste from local food markets that traders would otherwise struggle to dispose of — and which typically ends up in landfill. The waste is supplied by the slaughterhouse and traders free-of-charge, and the youth group pays just 1 Kenyan shilling (about CA$0.011) per kg of waste for transportation costs. The other primary production cost is for assistance in the insect-rearing process, for which Y Minds Connect pays 25 Kenyan shillings (about CA$0.29) on average per labourer.  

“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,“ enthused 24-year-old Nicholas Mareve, CEO of Y Minds Connect. “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.”   

In August 2021, the group began diversifying its activities under the brand name Vihanga and has been producing and selling dried insects, BSF-based pet food, and organic frass (insect manure) as crop fertilizer. “With the frass, we are able to sell it to horticulture, flower, and organic farmers, which really boosts our business,” said Mareve, who explained that, within one week, the group can produce 600 kg of BSF frass, which earns them 60,000 Kenyan shillings (about CA$668). Mareve added that this income goes a long way in boosting the group’s business, increasing its marketing spend, and assisting members in financial need. 

Insect rearing and production is also being taught to other youths and, since the start of 2021, the group has trained over 30 women and youth groups in Kiambu County. Depending on the number of attendees, these sessions range from 2,000 Kenyan shillings (about CA$22) to 5,000 Kenyan shillings (CA$56) in cost.  

Some of the enterprise’s speedy success can be attributed to the involvement of CultiAF’s Insect Feed for Poultry and Fish Production (INSFEED) project. Implemented by icipe, INSFEED’s goal is to support farmers and young entrepreneurs with limited resources in accessing sustainable economic opportunities throughout the insect value chain.  

“Y Minds Connect has been a case study for how young entrepreneurs who sometimes struggle to access land for farming can exploit limited spaces to venture into rewarding enterprises. With the price of raw materials for animal feeds, like soya bean, at an all-time high and supply dwindling, insects are offering the perfect avenue for young entrepreneurs to cash in to address this gap,” said Chrysantus Tanga, INSFEED project leader and icipe research scientist. 

Production partnerships 

However, the group’s journey has not been without challenges. As demand for its insect products soars, Y Minds Connect has contended with the high cost of outsourcing drying services. “The cheapest dryer we can get costs approximately 600,000 Kenyan shillings [about CA$6,891], which dries up to 300 kg of insects per hour. With the capacity of insects we are producing, that would not be enough for us. We are, however, exploring partnerships with private players, financial institutions, and the county government for funding options,” stated Mareve. 

The group is also partnering with Organic Kitchen Gardens Kenya, a company that designs, plants, and maintains organic kitchen gardens. Y Minds Connect is offering the company a section of its unutilized land on which to construct gardens and train school children on the relevance and benefits of insect rearing. Looking to the future, the group also hopes to start rearing pigs and chickens to sell at local markets to maximize earnings, and to develop an integrated insect-livestock system. 

Top image: Georgina Smith | WRENMedia