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Insect farms: Investors see big profits in thinking small

Flies fed garbage become an environmentally friendly source of protein

When it comes to resolving a big global food problem, a new breed of farmers and their financial backers are thinking small.

Work on the world’s largest fly farm has begun in South Africa after the European firm behind the project won much-needed funding from investors, propelling the use of insects as livestock feed beyond academic theory to a commercial venture.

The project near Cape Town was conceived by a group of scientists and environmentalists racing to find protein alternatives as rising production of livestock feed such as soy gobbles up more and more valuable agricultural land.

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Oriental fruit fly

The farm, being built by Gibraltar-based AgriProtein, will house 8.5 billion flies that will produce tons of protein-rich larvae as they feed on organic waste. The tallest barrier to such startups has been the availability of capital, with potential investors deterred by legislative hurdles.

“The world has an issue with waste management and also sourcing protein,” said Johnny Kahlbetzer, director of Australian agricultural company Twynam, one of several global investors in the fly farm.

“If farming insects can solve the two problems, then that is a great outcome, and that is what has motivated our investment,” he said.

Livestock production, which accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land, is seen by the United Nations as a leading cause of environmental problems including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

House of flies

Housing billions of flies that feed on more than 110 tonnes of rotting food and waste every day, the South Africa farm will be capable of producing 20 tonnes of larvae a day, 3.5 tonnes of larvae high in fatty acids, and 50 tonnes of organic fertilizer, Jason Drew, co-founder of AgriProtein, told Reuters last week.

AgriProtein will use a combination of the black soldier fly, the blowfly and the common housefly. In cages, the flies will be fed a mix of spoiled or leftover food, manure, and abattoir waste. They will then be left to breed. Their larvae will afterwards be dried and processed into an animal feed.

When sold, Drew said, the AgriProtein feed is likely to be 15 per cent cheaper than fishmeal.

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