In Kenya, insect farming is booming to increase food security

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Two of the seventy-eight employees of the Insectipro farm are responsible for separating the seedlings of the black soldier fly larvae from the production substrate in order to exploit them.

Past the building’s sheet metal door, deafening music welcomes the visitor. That of the millions of locusts that the company Insectipro industrially produces on a horticultural farm in the suburbs of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Tomorrow, some will be sold whole and dried, in the form of seasoned fries. “So they show the consumer that eating insects is not scary”explains Talash Hujibers, the young founder of Insectipro.

Launched in 2018, the start-up produces 10 kg of locusts a day, but above all a ton of dried black soldier flies reserved for animal feed manufacturers. Participates in the flourishing of scientific and commercial initiatives that have been taking place for ten years around edible insects in Kenya, where the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) is located.

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Grasshoppers, black ants, locusts, flies, termites: between 25 and 50 edible species have been listed in the country, mainly in western regions where the climate is favorable. Many research programs in Kenya are interested in the potential of these insects and receive funding from a dozen foreign governments, research centers and international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) or the World Bank.

Objective: to succeed in developing new proteins that will feed 8.5 billion people in 2030 on a planet whose natural resources are under severe pressure. The issue is even more crucial in Sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately one in five people today suffer from malnutrition.

still a lot of reluctance

But insects contain, once dry, between 40% and 75% protein depending on the species, but also fats, vitamins and minerals and more amino acids than plants. and its production “requires less arable land, less water and has a low ecological footprint” says Dr. Chrysantus Mbi Tanga, lead researcher at Icipe.

While entomophagy (the consumption of insects by humans) still arouses much reluctance, the World Bank estimates that between 1 and 2 billion people in the world already feed on insects, mainly taken from nature.

The seedlings of the black soldier fly larvae created by Insectipro are sent to scientific laboratories that carry out research on components that may be of interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

On January 19, the institution published a report on insect husbandry and hydroponics (above-ground cultivation practiced in neutral substrate) in Africa that lists the existence of 850 “insect farms” intended for human and animal consumption on the continent. Especially in Kenya, where government standards were implemented between 2017 and 2021 to regulate the market, while companies like Insectipro appear every year.

In the East African country, the other major producer is Sanergy. This company with more than 400 employees puts the ability to recycle black soldier flies at the service of organic waste management. Created in 2011 on the initiative of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), operating in Nairobi and soon in Kisumu and Kilifi, two other large cities in Kenya, the start-up daily collects human waste from toilets that it has installed in the slums. .

Beneficial effects for humans

Added to the waste from the fruit and vegetable markets, the waste serves as food for the flies, which recycle 70,000 tons per year. The insects, after sanitary control, end up in animal feed; the remains of their digestion become a naturally very rich fertilizer or are transformed into biomass briquettes for combustion.

Meat consumption is on the rise in the country, but it comes up against high production costs due to animal feed, which represents between 60% and 70% of costs. Proteins for farming come mainly from soy, which is imported and therefore subject to customs duties, and from fish.

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According to Icipe, 4% of Kenya’s annual animal feed is currently provided by insect protein, but this proportion could reach 40% in two to three years. “According to our observations, insect-fed chickens grow better and develop more meat than fat”reveals Dr. John Kinyuru, food and nutrition researcher at Jomo Kenyatta Agricultural University (Jkuat).

The university’s work has also shown favorable effects for humans. “Eat bugs allows the development of beneficial microorganisms and bacteria for the digestive system. This results in better immunity, reduced harmful bacteria and therefore better health! »says Dr. Kinyuru.

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Icipe established two years ago that insect oil was richer in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin E than vegetable oils. From nutrients needed to defend against pathogens, prevent heart disease, to anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. Despite these findings, there are still many unknowns about insect physiology. Above all, the biggest challenge for this new industry is now getting to mass production.

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