The unique business of growing flies

Nicholas Ndekei loves flies but just not any fly, the black soldier fly (BSF). If given a chance to lecture an audience on matters BSF, he would win awards.

His eyes twinkle as he talks about them and his mouth waters. It is that serious. If it were up to him, the 25-year-old would name the BSF king of the insects, at least in his world. But he hasn’t always been like this, he once was a ‘normal’ child who loved football and Manchester United.

In 2017, Brian Amenya and Nicholas met at Ridgeways Baptist church and forged a friendship. They would later start small businesses, learning the ropes of business and gaining experience.

After failing with cabbages, they decided to venture into exporting chili peppers.  They would purchase chili peppers from farmers and repackage to sell. That one didn’t work either. They were not ready and so the short business stint ended as fast as it started.

While running the business on the side, Nicholas enrolled in his first year of higher learning at the United States International University in Kenya, majoring in Economics and Finance.

It is then that he met his Economics professor, Dr. Paul Wachana, who in different scenarios would mention about rearing crickets. That intrigued him and so Nicholas hounded him to introduce him to this new venture every chance he got. His professor linked him with Dr. Chrysantus Tanga, project lead and a research scientist with the Insects for Food, Feed and other Uses Programme (INSFEED) at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

In 2019, Nicholas and Brian under a youth program, ‘Y-Minds Connect’ visited ICIPE for training through the Rockefeller Foundation. It is then that Nicholas and Brian realized that the project was on black soldier flies and not on crickets as they earlier thought. Dr. Tanga visited Nicholas’ farm and after approving the slope, he gave a directive to have two greenhouses planted, 1000 crates and 700 metal.

ICIPE started the BSF project in 2015, where they provided training to SMEs in BSF rearing, how to handle each insect stage for better productivity, giving the enterprises their initial stock as well as training them on the utilization of insect protein as an alternative animal protein source.

The training was scaled out to reach over 6,500 farmers as well as developing the market opportunities to include the transformation of municipal waste into value-added, high-quality fertilizer for enhanced crop production.

In November 2020, Nicholas and Brian started the lifelong project that has changed the trajectory of their life. They registered their business and coined the name Zihanga Limited from the sustainable development goal (SDG) ‘zero hunger’, which indicates a pivotal role for the future of food security.

They got 40 kilos of 5-day-old larvae from ICIPE and started their business. They use waste from nearby Wangige market and Ndumbuini pig slaughter house in Kikuyu area which helps in the production of BSF eggs. The process takes about 10 days to achieve the final product.

The life of a black soldier fly evolves in five different stages referred to as instas, which are the different sizes of the BSF. After the fly eggs hatch, they are placed in Insta 1 and after being fed for a few days with waste, they increase in size to pre-pupae, then to pupae and then morph into a fly at insta 5 where the protein is highest.

Every week, the team at Zihanga Limited place 7 kilos of pupae in the love cage, where they emerge after 3 weeks to become flies. A love cage is a netting enclosure where the flies mate to produce eggs. The flies mate and lay eggs which are then collected and placed in Insta 1 and the cycle continues.

The team recycles 20 tonnes of organic waste every week, harvests 9 tonnes of organic Zihanga Insect Frass which is fertilizer and sells it to cabbage, tomato, onion and strawberry farmers in the area, as well as 6 tonnes of the wet insect and 2 tonnes of the dried insect. He sells a kilo of dried insects for between Sh110 and Sh140. They sell the insects as pig and chicken feed to farmers in the area.

To produce the frass, maggots are nurtured until larvae stage for seven days and then introduced to chicken waste, human waste, pigs waste or market waste where they feed and convert the waste into an organic fertilizer. This breakdown is then decomposed in a heap for another 30 days before the frass is ready for use.

“After testing the fertilizer at the University of Nairobi (UoN), we confirmed that it had all the required macronutrients like phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, boron and calcium which are necessary for crop growth and productivity,” Brian said.

Recent studies by ICIPE on the black soldier fly have demonstrated the potential of the BSF frass which contains their waste, exoskeletons and leftover food- and termed it as environmentally safe, affordable and sustainable.

“In the near future, we’ll continue to research and develop other value-added products such as BSF chitin for improved soil health and crop protection against pests, as well as insect oil as an additive to the animal feed and cosmetic soaps” Nicholas said.

To create a circular economy for smallholder farmers, the team integrated chicken farming together with BSF farming where the chicken waste drops and is consumed by the insects, and thereafter, the same chicken are fed with the same insects.

In order to start the engagements of the business, the team needed lots of training as well as capital to start their business. They are grateful for the support they have received through the course of their business especially to ICIPE and the Rockefeller Foundation both for asset and liquid financing.

The team is also grateful to Safaricom and its partnership with #MyLittleBigThing, an initiative by MK-Africa that enabled them go through rigorous business program trainings, under the #MyLittleBigThing competition in 2021. The team scooped the 1st runners up position for mass producing insects fertilizer and bio-fuels using bio-waste.

Insect meal-based animal feed is unquestionably a growing market in Kenya and neighboring countries. This is mainly because it has had high acceptance among farmers and feed producers, due to the reduced production especially at a time where farmers are facing income uncertainty due to high costs of feed as well as inflation.

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