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.
A 20-acre poultry and insect-rearing farm, situated in the semi-arid Mtalani area of Kenya’s Machakos County, is at the heart of a circular-economy model — using insects to feed on waste to overcome the problem of prohibitively expensive animal feeds.
When 40-year-old Doreen Mbaya Ariwi first ventured into chicken farming in 2012, incessant price hikes, which caused her business to operate at a loss, meant she was forced out of business after just two years. However, in 2019, a friend informed her about the Insect Feed for Poultry and Fish Production (INSFEED) project, which utilizes insect production as a cheap and sustainable source of protein for animal feeds – and inspiration took hold. Run by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), INSFEED is part of the CultiAF partnership between IDRC and ACIAR.
Along with 57,000 other Kenyan farmers, Ariwi received 5 kg of black soldier fly (BSF) and production training from icipe, which allowed her to venture back into poultry farming in 2020. Through her new enterprise, Bugs Life Protein Limited Company, she currently rears almost 7,000 chickens (across a mix of ages), as well 3,000 trays of BSF – which grow from eggs to adults in four to five weeks – in three greenhouses provided by icipe.
Ariwi rears enough flies to feed her chickens, and also supplies 220 kg of BSF to a local company that manufactures insect-based pet food. For 1 kg of BSF, Ariwi charges 320 Kenyan shillings (about CA$3.56).
The benefits of bugs
Animal feed now accounts for up to 70% of Kenyan farmers’ production costs – particularly as the cost of both plant- and animal-based protein sources, such as soybean and fishmeal, is increasing due to limited local supply and high demand. For Ariwi, embracing BSF farming has enabled her to reduce the amount of commercial feed she uses. Since May 2021, she has bought 300 bags per month, instead of 450 bags, thanks to the supplementation with insects, which she feeds to the chickens directly or mixes with conventional feeds. This has resulted in a saving of 30%.
As well as being affordable, BSF are highly-efficient waste-recycling insects. Once their eggs are laid, Ariwi feeds waste, including leftover avocado peels from local markets and schools, and chicken manure to the larvae. On average, larvae take 14 days to mature, after which they are given to the chickens as a protein-rich food source. “It would have been very difficult for us to keep chicken without insects,” Ariwi explained. “The integrated farming method has been remarkable. The insects and chicken 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 on the farm as we push for sustainable and greener communities,” she added.
“On-farm studies indicate that when insects are fed to chicken, there is low feed intake because the energy and nutrient levels in insects are higher than commercial feeds, which translates to reduced production costs,” said Chrysantus Tanga, INSFEED project leader and icipe research scientist. “There is also a 62% increase in egg production and an extended time in egg production,” he added.
Ariwi also noted that her birds have laid significantly more eggs, which have better shell and yolk quality, since switching to BSF feed. Furthermore, she is able to sell her birds earlier because they reach market weight faster than when she relied on commercial feeds alone. She sells them at 550 Kenyan shillings (about CA$6.32), up from 400 Kenyan shillings (about CA$4.59) a year ago.
With the help of national and county governments, the private sector, and farming cooperatives, the project has worked with more than 100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which produce up to three tons of fresh BSF larvae each per week. Of these, 75% have received government certification to start the production and mass marketing of insect products. This, according to Tanga, has created over 1,200 jobs across Kenya.
“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,” Tanga said, adding that the insect-rearing value chain has also created new enterprises. Youth and women are also making insect ‘nests’, in which the insects reproduce, as well as greenhouse structures to sell to farmers.
Despite clear market opportunities and demand for BSF products, greater insect production is required to meet the supply needs of feed millers. So far, low BSF volumes have hindered uptake as millers grapple with ensuring a constant, reliable supply. Insect producers are also facing challenges relating to the high cost of drying large quantities of insects – up to 30 Kenyan shillings (about CA$0.34) per kg – due to limited dryer availability. Dried insects are preferred by millers and other BSF product manufacturers, due to their longer shelf life.
But Ariwi has learnt to be innovative. Working with local artisans, she has created a machine that can dry 10 kg of insects at once. The machine uses charcoal and briquettes as opposed to large electric dryers and, although slower than conventional dryers, she said using it has reduced her costs.
The future looks bright for Ariwi as she hopes to expand her chicken-insect-rearing venture. In making steps to achieve this, she is working with icipe to create paid classes in which to train SMEs across Machakos County on the benefits of insect farming. Four classrooms have already been built on her farm to facilitate the workshops, which will combine theory and practical lessons.