Researchers from the two African countries are on the path to develop low-cost and nutritious insect-based poultry and fish feeds after a study into their viability yielded promising results. Led by researchers from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), and Makerere University (MU), the study has identified the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) as the insect whose larvae can commercially be processed to provide proteins and mineral ingredients, required in poultry and fish feeds.

The Black Soldier Fly — Hermetia illucens. Image credits: Judy Gallagher.

In both countries, scarcity of protein ingredients contributes to the high cost of livestock feeds. As a result, feeds account for 60 to 70 percent of all rearing costs, according to ICIPE report. Proteins that make livestock feeds have conventionally come from soybean and fish — and are costly. The cost of a kilogram of protein-rich fishmeal in 2015 in Kenya was USD 1.4 while in Uganda it was USD 0.47. Still, it continues rising, causing the price of livestock feeds to also increase.

Researchers argue that using food sources like fish and soybean for non-food uses threatens food security and is unsustainable. According to a Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) study on the state of world fisheries and aquaculture, by 2012, 16.3 million tonnes of produced fish was used for nonfood uses like making fishmeal feed and fish oil.

To address that problem, ICIPE and MU researchers have identified the BSF larva as a more nutritious option and apt substitute for conventional protein foods that make livestock feeds. The larva has more crude protein content than conventional fish and soybean which has 45 percent protein, according to a report by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Use of BSF larvae in the project dubbed Insect feed for poultry and fish (INSFEED) is projected to reduce the costs of proteins used in making livestock feed, by 25 to 37.5 percent in the short term, and by 50 percent in the long term, according to the ICIPE/MU study.

“There is a high potential demand for insect-based feed, because poultry and fish feed alone, represents up to 70 percent of the feed sector in Kenya and in Uganda,” said Dr Dorothy Nakimbugwe a MU food scientist, and one of the study researchers.

Field trials results on the efficacy of the BSF larvae as feed have been promising. Tilapia fed for 22 weeks with 33 percent of proteins from the BSF larvae increased in weight by 23.4 percent, compared to those fed on conventional feed.  Layer chickens of ages 31 to 52 weeks fed with up to 100 percent of BSF larvae proteins had 2.1 times higher average egg production in the last 10 weeks. They also had longer egg-laying period above their economic usefulness, than those fed on conventional feed.

Eggs from the layer chickens fed with BSF larvae were also found to be nutritionally superior over those from chickens fed conventionally. They had orange yolks indicating high presence of nutritious carotenoids, while eggs from layer chickens fed conventionally had whitish-yellow yolks.

The study also shows rearing BSFs can create opportunities for income generation and jobs for the youth, women, and men. In Kenya, commercial poultry and fish sectors are annually worth USD 133 million and USD 56 million respectively according to the study. The poultry sector in Kenya employs about 3 million people, according to Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis.

In Kenya, the annual volume of poultry mixed feed demand is estimated at 400,000 to 550,000 tonnes and rising. According to the study, Kenya has a potential annual demand of 115,000 tonnes of dried BSF sourced protein for poultry feed, with a market value of USD 103.5 to USD 115 million per annum, and with potential for creating about 14,328 jobs for youths producing 2 tonnes of fresh BSFs monthly. Noticing such opportunities, tertiary institutions have initiated agribusiness incubation programs to train youths aged 18 to 35 to take advantage of them. Kenya’s United States International University (USIU) has a new six months incubation program dubbed the Metro Agrifood Living Lab (MALL). The program targets Kenyan youth with high school education and engaged in the poultry and fisheries value chain.

Youth enrolled in MALL are taught agribusiness productivity, business counseling, and connected to institutions like ICIPE, to learn about new innovative and beneficial technologies like INSFEED. MALL also ensures the youth get their agribusiness enterprises running by the time they finish the program. The 20 youth who pioneered the MALL program in 2015/2016, have so far achieved a 90 percent success rate; and of those, 60 percent of them were women.

Their success in running their agribusiness ventures has caused them to attract to financial institutions offering credit facilities. Two MALL alumni have received of between USD4800 to USD9630 to expand their poultry and fisheries ventures. A lady poultry keeper in Makueni County, Kenya has also trained and contracted 75 other poultry keepers there, to raise and be supplying her with chickens to meet the demand of her customers.

According to USIU’s Agribusiness Program Manager Karen Musikoyo, youth in the MALL program are also encouraged to collaborate and do business with each other, in order to grow their enterprises. That means those engaged in INSFEED can supply BSF larvae protein feed, to those rearing fish and poultry.

This is a guest contribution by James Karuga.