“They now call me professor, yet I had never seen the inside of a university until the project trained me in black soldier fly production,” chuckles Shadreck Kombera.
We were thrilled to meet Kombera, with his wealth of knowledge, who took us through the process of black soldier fly (BSF) production during a recent visit to rural Buhera in eastern Zimbabwe.
Kombera’s information is written on a fabric scroll and, as he takes us through the intervention, two community members hold up the fabric for him.
As an intervention – and new phenomenon – in this cyclone-affected community as part of resilience-building in the area, BSF has drawn much local support.
Hermetia illucens is a common, medium-size, predominantly black-coloured fly with shiny wings.
This fly has gained global attention for devouring organic waste and turning it into compost, or for the use of its larvae as animal feed.
In Buhera, we found that maggots are now seen as an alternative source of protein and a sustainable way to keep chicken (by supplementing their existing feed) or even as a replacement for other, higher-cost protein inputs.
Thus, the production, management, and use of BSF as a high protein, low-cost, crude source of poultry feed.
Kombera’s homestead is the centre of BSF in the area. BSF production is currently not widespread in Zimbabwe, and this is the first community to be involved at scale.
Kombera is one of 22 lead farmers trained under the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project to ensure the success of a “pilot” for 563 beneficiaries. The 22 farmers in turn had to train 25 other farmers.
“The size of my eggs, and quality of chickens, converted those who were initially skeptical of BSF,” Kombera said.
He produces 3kgs of BSF larvae every three weeks from naturally occurring wild BSF populations.
To feed his poultry, he needs two tonnes of BSF annually; where he falls short, he gets his supply from other farmers with healthy colonies.
The farmers have been trained in harvesting, substrate production, drying, feed formulation, milling and palletisation, as well as marketing, value chain analysis and forming farmer group enterprises.
They use various types of manure and waste – kitchen waste, animal waste, vegetable waste, fruit waste and watermelon waste – to attract the wild flies that lay larvae.
BSF has a four-stage life cycle from egg to larvae to pupa to adult fly. It deposits its eggs near a food source or substrate layer underneath it and, after about three to four days, they grow into the larvae that feed on the waste before being harvested.
JUST AS GOOD
AS SOYA BEAN
BSF’s nutritional composition compares well with mainstream feed ingredients, such as soya bean meal.
Its use as a component for livestock feed offers many of the advantages associated with a low carbon footprint as the fly larvae feed on organic revenue streams and help to reduce organic waste products in the environment.
Farmers use strong-smelling substrates to attract the BSF from the wild, sourced from a mixture of cattle, pig and chicken manure.
Farmers have been innovative in testing various substrates and low-cost technology. Cost of production per tonne for BSF is 50-62% cheaper than conventional soya bean meal.
The 22 lead farmers in this project, which is aimed at resilience-building, have managed to set up the essential infrastructure and equipment required for optimal BSF production.
This includes production tanks, cages and greenhouses for controlling temperature and humidity.
Extreme weather conditions and high temperatures in Buhera can upset nature, resulting in, for example, non-hatching fly eggs. We provided the green houses as part of the project to prevent this.
MOVING FORWARD AND SUSTAINABILITY
On our visit, we noticed that two commodity associations have taken root in the community to make sure the project continues to evolve.
Farmer exchange visits have been hosted, with visiting farmers being taken through the entire process of BSF production.
Additionally, the project identified an opportunity to collaborate with other organisations which are collecting seeds from melons from two farming groups.
Once the seeds are collected, the BSF farmers use the rest of the melon as waste, a most suitable substrate for BSF.
We also saw that many farmers had already moved away from high-cost production techniques to inventive, low-cost, rudimentary ones, opening the doors for more people to farm larvae.
Their techniques include breeding larvae in plastic drums cut in half, or in disused metal drums, or in small plastic dishes, old pots, big metal bathing dishes, small compost pits, lunch boxes and sacks.
There is now a push to link farmers to providers of equipment such as crushers, pelletisers packaging machines and marketers and other actors in the value chain. This will also require conducting business development training around BSF production to commercialise production and business case development.
Whatever happens next, we came away thinking that farming BSF larvae is already proving to be a unique and impactful way for some of Zimbabwe’s most climate-vulnerable communities to derive a substantial degree of benefit from everyday solid waste.
Climate-smart, it uses nothing more complicated than larvae with voracious appetites to digest bio-degradable vegetation and manure.
In doing so, the larvae turn it into useful compost and feed, or, when used as chicken feed themselves, become part of the virtuous cycle of an organic food chain.
- Tonderai Fadzai Mukonoweshuro is a senior operations officer and Nicholas Callender disaster risk management specialist. They both work for the World Bank Group