Circular business in Kenya: from waste to cattle feed

‘People call them beasts, we call them beauties.’ Talash Huijbers (25), founder of Insectipro, breeds black soldier flies. ‘Every day we process 30 tonnes of organic waste into protein-rich, affordable food for cattle and fish.’

Sustainable waste processing

The Kenyan capital Nairobi produces 2,500 tonnes of waste a day. Organic waste used to be incinerated, which is harmful to the environment and to health. The new National Sustainable Waste Management Policy obliges Kenyan businesses to process their waste sustainably.

Local supermarkets, bakers, farmers and brewers could not wait to get on board when Talash Huijbers proposed using their waste to breed insects. Talash, who grew up in Kenya on the farm run by her Dutch father and Kenyan mother, learnt about the potential of insects while studying International Food and Agribusiness at HAS University of Applied Sciences in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Three years ago she launched Insectipro, a company that produces insects.

A paradise for maggots

Every day Insectipro collects 30 tonnes of organic waste. Mango and avocado waste is a paradise for the larvae of the black soldier fly. The dried larvae are full of protein, perfect for grinding into fish food and cattle feed. Talash came up with the idea because she originally planned to farm fish, but was shocked at the prices. ‘Fish from China is cheaper than locally produced fish, because fish food is so expensive in Kenya,’ she explains. ‘Soya and fish meal are imported, and two-thirds of the cost price comes from the food. In the Netherlands, fish food accounts for only a third of the price.’

Protein-rich fish food

Talash contacted the Dutch embassy in Nairobi. Agricultural attaché Ingrid Korving was immediately convinced it was a good idea, as our embassies around the world work hard to create a sustainable living environment. She put Talash in contact with potential partners. ‘Cattle feed manufacturers were very excited about an affordable, protein-rich alternative,’ says Talash. Having begun in late 2019 with two kilos of waste, she now produces two tonnes of maggots a day. Insectipro currently employs 64 people, many of them in their twenties.

Black soldier fly

Not all the meal worms are ground into fish food. Some are allowed to hatch into black soldier flies. This metamorphosis leaves behind a hard shell that contains chitin. Talash is currently studying the potential of this residual product, so that everything from the process can be put to use. ‘The pharmaceutical industry uses chitin to make soft capsules, but you can also weave it into silk,’ she says.

Better pork

Talash’s neighbour keeps pigs. ‘I told him that insects are nutritious, but Kenyans won’t believe anything until they see it with their own eyes.’ As a test, she fed half of his pigs with flies. On this special diet, the pigs fattened up in four and a half months, more than a month faster than normal. The pork was also better quality, so the farmer could get more money for it. The pig farmer was convinced, and Insectipro had a new ambassador.

More demand during the pandemic

Chickens also like to eat meal worms. During the pandemic, when Kenya closed its borders and it became difficult to import soya, there was a rise in demand for chicken feed. ‘Dried maggots are a sustainable alternative, as they are locally produced,’ Talash explains.

Smart collaboration

The waste eaten and excreted by the maggots is like fertiliser. Talash tested it on fields of broccoli, lettuce and courgettes. ‘The crops grow better and contain more nutrients,’ she says. ‘Farming is cool. People think I work in my fields with a spade, but these days it’s more about technology and innovation. And smart collaboration. We’re good at insects, but we don’t need to be good at collecting the waste or manufacturing cattle feed. It’s about forming the right partnerships.’

Want to know more about the insect farm in Kenya? Take a virtual tour of Insectipro