Youth turn food waste, flies into multi-million venture

By Njonjo Kihuria
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
A farmer inspects organically grown insects in a greenhouse. Photo/PD/NJONJO KIHURIA
In summary

A new generation of agri-preneurs in Kiambu county are using innovation to recycle organic waste into high-protein animal feed and organic fertiliser using the black soldier fly.

At a food recycling plant in Juja, Kiambu county, piles of food waste, freshly delivered here from local restaurants, homes and markets, are waiting to be recycled — by insects.

After being shred using a chaff cutter into small pieces, the food is pumped into the plant, then devoured by millions of black soldier flies.

A black soldier fly, or Hermetia illucens is a common and widespread fly of the family Stratiomyidae.

The fly holds some unique properties. It’s not a pest like the regular house fly, and so it can actually be put to use by humans.

The young farmers through their company Ecodudu Animal Feeds and Fertiliser are successfully turning these special kind of flies into professional recyclers.

The magic of turning insects into millions starts at the ‘love cage’ where adult black soldier flies mate and lay eggs.

Female flies lay between 500 and 1,000 in the 14 days that they stay in the cage before they die.

The tiny eggs are then collected in special trays in which the larvae are initially fed on bran before being moved to the main feeding crates where they feed on mashed avocado and other fruit waste.

“They feed actively for about 10 to 15 days growing 500 times in size and then metamorphose into insects that are then dried using eco-friendly solar method and packed ready for the market,” Ecodudu CEO and co-founder Adan Mohamad told Agribiz. 

Some of the larvae are, however, blossomed into flies for reproduction purposes.

Shells that are left over in the process of metamorphosis and the attendant waste are used to make organic fertiliser. 

The company’s chief technical officer, Rahima Nassir says they have started a greenhouse trial project growing tomato using the fertiliser, next to the insect producing plant.

“I used to work in a feeds manufacturing factory before we started this company and the major challenge for the sector is cost and supply of protein.

The manufacturers are always looking for ways of getting adequate protein supply at affordable prices.

Our process has become an alternative source of more nutritious animal feeds and protein at reasonable cost.

At the same time, we are helping conserve the environment by collecting and making use of organic waste, which is rarely recycled,” Mohamad explained.

Mohamad said the company has been expanding since last year by pulling farmers into the supply chain.

Farmers are trained on producing the insects using organic waste available in their respective areas, either from factories or fresh food markets, Ecodudu buys the product and sells it to the manufacturer.

“The demand is quite high, we have secured a letter of intent from Unga Limited, who say they can absorb 6,000 tonnes a month and yet we can only do five to 10 tons on our own right now,” he says.

In this regard, the company has entered into a partnership with the county government of Kiambu where the county will provide groups of young people with the necessary infrastructure for producing the insects and Ecodudu will provide the groups with technical know how and larvae.

The responsibility of the groups will be to source for waste and sell to Ecodudu.

Farmers can access fruit waste and other farm produce from local fresh produce markets.

The waste is shredded using a chaff cutter because it takes longer to break down if left whole. 

To escalate this venture, Governor James Nyoro said the county government will provide 60 greenhouses, one for a youth group in every ward.

This will be part of his government’s youth empowerment programme as well as the post Covid-19 economic recovery plan.

An individual farmer without the benefit of a greenhouse can produce the insects by converting any available structure on his farm, thus reducing his major expenditure to the purchase of feeding crates.

Ecodudu would readily provide such a farmer with know how and larvae.

Started in 2016, Ecodudu was able to break even last year and is currently funding-raising for its second phase estimated at US$1 million (Sh100 million).

“Already we have gotten a German investor, and by the end of this year or early next year, we will have reached our target.

This will enable us to scale laterally, so by the end of 2021, we will have about 200 farmers working directly with us.

We will equip them with the technical expertise and larvae and in turn they will sell the product to us,” said Mohamad.

Currently the company is paying the few farmers on board, Sh45 for a kilogramme of the insect vitamin and Sh48 for a kilogramme of the byproduct fertiliser.